SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The COVID-19 vaccine may do more than prevent coronavirus infections. It could serve as a cure for people who suffer from long-haul symptoms.
An estimated 10-30% of people who get infected with COVID-19 say they suffer from symptoms for weeks or months after their infection ends.
Now, a large number of those so-called "long haulers" say the vaccine made their symptoms improve or disappear.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard this," says Diana Berrent, the founder of Survivor Corps, the largest network of Long-Haulers in the US.
"When the vaccines came out, we were ready and prepared to track every side effect," Berrent says. "We were ready for anything that could go wrong. It never occurred to any of us that people would actually feel better."
Berrent surveyed nearly 650 members of Survivor Corps. Forty percent say they got better after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, 14% say they got worse. The rest reported no change in their symptoms.
"We had the same percentages when there were 200 people participating as there were when there were 650," says Berrent. "That leads me to believe, with those static numbers and those percentages, that we are really on to something."
Berrent sent her results to researchers at Yale University, who have planned a formal research project to study the effects the vaccine has on long-haul patients.
At UC San Diego's Post-COVID clinic, Dr. Lucy Horton says she hasn't seen any patients improve after getting the vaccine. But that could be because most of her Long-Haul patients aren't eligible for the vaccine yet.
Dr. Horton calls the idea of a therapeutic vaccine "interesting and exciting" and says studying this could help answer some questions about why Long-Haul syndrome exists.
"Some of these patients may have never mounted a fully protective immune response," she says. "So, possibly getting the vaccine has kind of stimulated their immune response to behave in a more normal fashion."
Another theory is that COVID-19 left behind what doctors call a "viral reservoir" of infection that never leaves the body. Dr. Horton thinks the vaccine could help the body eliminate the leftovers.
Horton says it would also be one of the first instances of a therapeutic vaccine, where a shot not only prevents an infection, but also helps to treat it.
"As more and more of our patients get vaccinated, we'll keep a close eye on this," says Dr. Horton.
Both Dr. Horton and Berrent say there needs to be more research done on the topic before drawing any conclusions. But it offers a glimmer of hope after a year of frustration for people still suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.
"I think this is reassuring," says Dr. Horton. "It gives patients confidence to go ahead and get vaccinated knowing that their symptoms will probably not get any worse and maybe even get better."
"I think that, while the jury's still out, this is one of the more promising signs we have had in quite a while," says Berrent. "And we are due. We have been due for some good news."