U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before receiving a second COVID-19 booster vaccination in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 30, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Joe Biden on Tuesday directed the Health and Human Services Department to lead a federal effort to research the diagnosis and treatment of long Covid.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday said he will lead a national council that includes the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor. The council will share information in real time on how to prevent, detect and treat long Covid, Becerra said during a White House Covid briefing.
Scientists and doctors still do not fully understand why some people who contract Covid experience symptoms months later, sometimes with debilitating consequences for daily life. These symptoms include difficulty breathing, fatigue, problems concentrating, body aches, tingling sensations and mood changes, among others.
Even people who only had a mild illness after infection and individuals who initially had no symptoms can develop long Covid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other individuals also experience autoimmune conditions that can affect multiple organ systems including heart, lung, kidney, skin and brain functions. Nearly 8,000 children have developed such symptoms, known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome or MIS-C, according to the CDC. At least 66 kids have died from MIS-C.
The national research plan will accelerate enrollment of 40,000 people in the National Institutes of Health’s study of the long-term effects of Covid-19 infection, according to the White House. The NIH launched the large study, known as Recover, in September.
The federal effort will also tap a nationwide survey from the Department of Veterans Affairs about persistent symptoms after Covid infection, and a Defense Department study on the risk factors for developing the disease among service members.
Biden’s 2023 budget would invest $20 million to help deliver better care to long Covid patients, including the development of multispecialty clinics. The budget also includes $25 million to boost CDC research into the risk factors and health effects of long Covid.
“If we receive additional financial support for it from Congress, we will launch new centers of excellence in communities across the country to provide high quality care to individuals experiencing long Covid,” Becerra said.
However, Congress has proven less willing than the Biden administration to fund the U.S. Covid response. Senators on Monday reached a $10 billion supplemental Covid funding deal for therapeutics, vaccines and testing — a sum less than half of what the White House wanted.
In July, HHS and the Justice Department said people with long Covid qualify for protection against discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program must also cover treatments for long Covid, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.