Democratic senators press NIH on ‘slow pace’ of long COVID research

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday released a letter to the National Institutes of Health pressing the agency for answers over what they called the “slow pace” of research into long COVID-19.  

Lawmakers are turning increasing attention to long COVID-19, the name for a range of symptoms like fatigue and difficulty concentrating that can linger for months after some people initially get COVID-19.  

But Whitehouse and Markey say they are concerned that NIH has been slow to research potential treatments, given that there currently are not any that have been proven to work.  

“We are concerned by reports that the agency has been slow to launch COVID research efforts and prioritized long COVID observational studies over investigations of possible treatments and therapeutics to help those suffering from its symptoms,” Whitehouse and Markey write in the letter to NIH acting Director Lawrence Tabak.  

They point to reporting from Stat that the NIH has been slow to enroll patients in studies of long COVID-19.

Congress provided a hefty amount, $1.15 billion, in December 2020, to NIH for long COVID-19 research, and the senators ask how much of that funding remains unspent, as well as if additional funding or authorities are needed from Congress.  

The Government Accountability Office estimates that between 7.7 and 23 million Americans have long COVID-19.  

“Should this projection prove accurate, our health care system will face increased strain in the years to come,” the senators write. “In addition to these effects on health care, long COVID threatens our economic recovery, potentially exacerbating workforce shortages and straining social safety net programs.” 

With hospitals no longer facing surges of patients, more attention is turning to longer-term effects below the surface.  

A group of Democratic lawmakers has also introduced a bill to provide funding for long COVID-19 clinics in an effort to improve care.  

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