Long Covid & Vaccinations

Insight

Published

01 September 2021

The UK adult population is now mostly double vaccinated and, as hoped and expected, the data currently suggests that the risks of COVID-19 related hospitalisation and death have dramatically reduced too.

It follows that some people might now argue that there is no longer a need to vaccinate the remainder of the adult population. 

Yet COVID-19 is not just an illness with the binary outcomes of survival or death.  For there is also the longer-form of the infection, which has become known as Long Covid, to be considered. 

Long Covid risks

And the risk of contracting a Long Covid infection is far higher than many people might think. 

Indeed Professor Calum Semple of SAGE said in January this year that each COVID-19 related death;

“represents probably four or five people who survive but are damaged by Covid”.

An added complication for employees and employers alike is that Long Covid is extremely hard to define, not least (as we covered in this post) because there are so many symptoms associated with the illness, and recovery from those symptoms is not necessarily a linear progression of improvement either. 

Yet regardless of how Long Covid is defined, it has the potential to be an extremely debilitating illness to those unlucky enough to suffer from it. 

A lived experience

So let’s take personal testimony from King’s College Professor Alex Hammers.  In last week’s ZOE COVID study video he said;

“I used to be ridiculously fit … and initially I thought I have had the flu and it was worse than this.

Except that the flu does clear after a week, and I was seriously sick – at home not hospital – for weeks… I have been lucky, I’m 95% recovered, but it’s been a 10 month journey. 

I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

Which provides a useful insight to the problems for individuals who experience Long Covid symptoms.

It also highlights that, from a purely dispassionate and practical employment perspective, employers should now be prepared for some extremely long absences when their employees – potentially of any age and/or any pre-infection state of health – contract COVID-19.  And this risk remains high, as the COVID-19 infections in the UK have continued at around 30,000 per day, even during the summer when the season and personal behaviours don’t favour onward transmission.

Can vaccinations help?

However, Prof Hammer went on to provide some more positive news;

“It’s very important to see the emerging data suggesting that vaccination not only prevents death and hospitalisation, but data shows that you get fewer symptoms, for a shorter time, and it looks like it probably reduces the risk of Long Covid as well.

Some people say ‘if I’m not going to die from it, why would I get vaccinated?’

My comment on that, as someone with personal experience of this, there are things between life and death which can make your life persistent, but a loss less pleasant than it was before.”

So, in addition to the much reduced risk of hospitalisation or death, it appears that there is now growing evidence that vaccinations might well reduce the scale of Long Covid infections too.

This is an important but often overlooked part of the vaccination debate, and it is perhaps one that more employers should consider communicating to any employees who remain reluctant to receive a vaccine.

Long Covid & Employee Benefits

The truth is that Long Covid infections are an unpleasant reality and risk for employees and employers alike, and anything that helps control that risk should be explored further.

Finally, and not least, it would be remiss of me not to mention that there are a growing wealth of tools available within Employee Benefits offerings that can help employees through the challenges of Long Covid. 

So whether it’s remote GP appointments, Employee Assistance Plans, Mental Health support, rapid access to private healthcare treatments, or support with managing Long Covid conditions, employers should make sure that all available tools are deployed and utilised to help in each and every Long Covid situation.

For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options.  For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit Howden’s coronavirus hub.

Published 01/09/21

Steve Herbert

Steve Herbert

Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.

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