A 33-year-old nurse got long COVID despite being fully vaccinated. Doctors think we may see more of these rare cases.
Anna Kern got her second vaccine dose five months ago, but it wasn't a ticket to normality. Kern, a 33-year-old nurse practitioner, tested positive for COVID-19 in April and has been struggling with long COVID ever since.
The post-viral illness is characterized by symptoms that last a minimum of three weeks but can often drag on for months. Kern said her symptoms had gotten steadily worse. At first, she had chills and felt rundown, so she cut back her work hours - Kern had been doing COVID-19 tests in the Detroit area. Then she started experiencing extreme fatigue after minor activities like a walk or a jog.
In May, Kern recorded her heart rate while going about her morning routine - eating breakfast, brushing her teeth, washing the dishes. She was at 130 beats a minute, a rate she'd normally hit only through exercise. Symptoms like racing heart and fatigue are commonly reported among people with long COVID, who are also known as long-haulers.
By Memorial Day, Kern could barely move after working a shift.
"I remember waking up and knowing that I needed to drink some water and maybe eat some food, but being so tired that I was trying to figure out if I could actually do that," she said. "I ended up crawling from my bed to my refrigerator."
She considered asking for more time off, even though she was working remotely. But at about the same time, she learned that her nursing position - her main source of income - had been cut.
With her life upended, Kern turned to a long-haul support group. She found a few people who'd also gotten breakthrough infections - cases of COVID-19 diagnosed at least two weeks after someone is fully vaccinated - and still hadn't recovered. But not many.
For now, there's no good data to assess how common long-haul cases are after vaccination, but the chances of getting any breakthrough infection are rare. A May report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that just one in 10,000 vaccinated Americans got sick after their shots. And UK researchers estimated last year that long-haul cases could occur in about 10% of people found to have had COVID-19.
So getting long COVID after being fully vaccinated is "a low probability times a low probability," Bob Wachter, the chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, told Insider.
Still, he said: "I'm at the stage now where I'm quite confident it can happen. I really doubt it's going to turn out to be one in a million."