ANDREW MILLER: Why we can’t let short-term thinking override our approach to long COVID

Andrew Miller
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Ignore the naysayers, long COVID is an insidious ongoing issue and any attempt to downplay is at best misguided and at worst dangerous.
Ignore the naysayers, long COVID is an insidious ongoing issue and any attempt to downplay is at best misguided and at worst dangerous. Credit: istock

It is what it is.

Jerry Seinfeld based an entire riff on this well-worn tautology, making us all laugh by pointing out there is zero new information in the phrase. A waste of breath, he said.

Comedians are often the smartest ones in the room. They see the BS that holds human society together and are not afraid to call it out.

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Seinfeld’s eponymous “show about nothing” was anything but aimless. It was subversive, revolutionary art. Episodes like The Contest and The Chinese Restaurant are modern Shakespeare, hiding in plain sight.

“It is what it is” is not nothing, either, as Jerry well knows. Immanuel Kant would have liked this pocket reminder that the truth is immutable.

Even when it is inconvenient, Kant argued, we must tell the truth for good moral reasons — to avoid impinging on people’s autonomy, especially if we are motivated to mislead the narrative for our own benefit.

The clumsy call for us to stop using the moniker “long COVID,” from Queensland chief health officer Dr John Gerrard last week, is a deontological infraction on both counts.

He did SMS surveys which found moderate to severe functional problems persisting at 12 months in 3 to 4 per cent of patients after COVID, influenza and other infections — so he would rather we all stop making a specific diagnosis.

Long COVID — the disease that should not be named.

To say that his suggestion now has problems with scientific peer review would be a gratuitous understatement.

Nobel Laureate immunologist Professor Peter Doherty said, on social media platform X: “it’s extraordinary that any public figure could say that there is little difference between long-term sequelae of COVID-19 and influenza, especially from such a superficial study”.

He concluded, with characteristic clarity, that the research was “a piece of crap”.

However, it does indicate the scale of new human suffering from repeated COVID infection.

When extrapolated, Gerrard’s own underestimates suggest around 64,000 Queenslanders were still significantly disabled by COVID a year after they were infected.

This is no good news — it has enormous implications, compared to just 1600 with long flu problems — most of whom probably had COVID as well.

Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard
Dr John Gerrard says 'long Covid' is the same as the lingering effects suffered after other viruses. Credit: Jono Searle/AAP

Any attempt to downplay the cause and frequency of long-term COVID problems impairs our autonomy because it changes our attitude toward risk. It is not truthful.

It is also self-serving.

As a leading “let it rip” CHO, Gerrard was warned by many experts of the massive disability coming.

Where are our educational programs about airborne spread; measures of current community infections; indoor air-quality standards; masks for healthcare; new vaccine boosters and vaccines for kids; antivirals, and long COVID assessment and research clinics?

It was his job to prepare his State to properly deal with the aftermath of the “wall of immunity via infection “ policy. Instead, he tells everyone to stop naming names.

Gerrard and his ilk are white-knuckling it, as they see the health and economic detriments steadily compound. His attempt to obscure the cause is a self-serving lunge for redemption.

How did other disease experts know this would happen?

Professor Jeremy Nicholson, from Murdoch University’s Australian National Phenome Centre, says the basic lab science has been known for four years — COVID-19 causes much more toxic and widespread organ dysfunction than influenza. Even during mild disease in children.

He says that the potential increases in diabetes, heart disease and neurological problems — which are clearly foreshadowed by the metabolic signatures in his lab — will not be obvious to patients for years.

Our authorities say our kids don’t need a vaccine because their short-term outcomes are apparently not too bad, but it’s the long-term that Nicholson and many others are worried about.

The US is vaccinating and boosting everyone from six months of age, and the Europeans are enforcing clean indoor air standards. Meanwhile, Gerrard just wants a rebrand.

Long COVID is no joke, and it’s definitely not the flu. It is what it is.

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