A leading virus expert has called for greater support for people affected by long COVID, warning those with the condition have felt abandoned by the Federal Government.
Chief executive of the Burnet Institute Brendan Crabb told a parliamentary inquiry future responses in how the country deals with COVID should take into account people who have been dealing with long COVID.
Long COVID relates to patients who are still reporting symptoms or contracting new symptoms several months after their initial infection.
“The ones who are suffering, we don’t know the exact numbers … but the numbers are big and of course they vary widely in severity” Professor Crabb told the inquiry on Monday.
“This is a group who feel left out of the discussion.
“Australia’s policy is largely based around acute COVID, with trying to protect the vulnerable.”
Monday marked the start of the rollout for the fifth dose of the COVID vaccine.
All adults who have not had a booster or an infection of COVID in the past six months will be eligible for an additional dose protecting them from the virus.
Crabb said a boost in the uptake of vaccines was needed to reduce the severity of COVID among patients, along with reducing the impact of long COVID.
“A fifth dose doesn’t help those who haven’t had their third,” he said.
“The message isn’t getting through that for the first time in the best part of 50 to 70 years, life expectancy is going to decrease in Australia because of COVID, that is how significant it is.”
The institute’s head also called for an increase to measures improving air quality in enclosed spaces as a way of lessening the spread of COVID.
Crabb said the messaging surrounding COVID needed to change to account for those with long COVID.
“Subliminally at least, it’s very hard (for long COVID) to be taken seriously, for employers to take it seriously for example, let alone health professionals,” he said.
“There’s a lot to learn, it’s a mysterious brain fog. It sounds like it’s in your head (but) it’s actually brain damage. We know what brain fog is to a large extent and we should probably use some words like that.”
Epidemiology chair at Deakin University Catherine Bennett told the committee there was a need for further research to better understand long COVID.
“Long COVID still needs to be well understood and it affects the ability to generalise results from trials or real-world data analysis of risk factors for long COVID,” Professor Bennett said.
Meanwhile, a second bivalent vaccine targeting Omicron sub-variants has been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Moderna’s vaccine — elasomeran and davesomeran — will be used as a booster dose in people aged 12 years and older.
Evidence from extensive use in Canada, Europe, Japan and the US over recent months shown the booster provides clear reductions in hospitalisation and death, the TGA said.