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Urgent research into the long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 needed to protect the NHS

13 August 2020

Urgent research into the long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 is crucial to prevent placing an additional burden on the NHS in the future, according to an expert briefing note published by the British Society for Immunology’s taskforce on Immunology and COVID-19 today.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it has become clear that infection with SARS-CoV-2 may be responsible for previously unexpected consequences, affecting multiple organ systems across the body and continuing to do so long after recovery.

This briefing note outlines three recommendations to help us understand what SARS-CoV-2 and our immune response to it does to our health over the longer term in a range of individuals, from asymptomatic to severe cases. A better understanding of the immunological health effects after COVID-19 infection is needed to avoid a substantial care-burden on our healthcare system.

Recommendations:

  1. To establish long-term cohort studies and research programmes to track durability of the immune response and long-term disease consequences in a diverse range of COVID-19 patients.
  2. To undertake a multidisciplinary approach, including immunology and respiratory medicine, to understand the pathologies of the diverse chronic symptoms from a range of patients recovered from COVID-19, from asymptomatic to severe infection.
  3. To focus on understanding the underlying biological mechanisms that drive the longer-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19, which will help establish new therapeutic options and avoid a new substantial care burden on the NHS

 

Professor Arne Akbar FMedSci, Chair of the advisory group and President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Immunology research is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Our expert advisory group was formed to identify key research priorities to help us understand how our immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 so our efforts to tackle the disease can have the highest benefits for public health.

“In the past few months, it has become apparent that SARS-CoV-2 infection has effects far beyond our respiratory health, including on our cardiovascular and renal systems. Furthermore, it appears to affect our health long after recovery from COVID-19 with some patients continuing to report symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath for months after the initial infection. These lasting disease consequences must be tracked and studied to avoid a bigger burden on the NHS.”

Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, member of the advisory group, Trustee of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Immunology at University of Surrey, said:

“COVID-19 has already had a devastating effect on global health, and the ongoing symptoms that a significant proportion of patients are experiencing long after infection is a cause for concern as it could have a huge impact for months and years to come.

 “The recommendations proposed in this briefing note are a starting point to understand the diverse long-term immune-related consequences of COVID-19. Monitoring these chronic symptoms and understanding the mechanisms of the immune response contributing to them will be crucial to establish new therapeutic options and prevent further strain on our healthcare system.”

 

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Notes for editors

This briefing note ‘Long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19’ has been produced by the British Society for Immunology’s taskforce on Immunology and COVID-19. The Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce is an expert advisory group that aims to identify the immunology research priorities to guide future studies and treatments and inform public health measures to control the Coronavirus spread. The 15 leading immunologists in the taskforce have rapidly reviewed current research on the long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 and set out the key recommendations for future research. This expert group was established with The Academy of Medical Sciences in early April 2020 and it’s chaired by BSI President Professor Arne Akbar.

 

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The British Society for Immunology is the leading UK membership organisation working with scientists and clinicians from academia and industry to forward immunology research and application around the world. Our friendly, accessible community consists of more than 4,200 immunologists, giving us a powerful voice to advocate for immunological science and health for the benefit of society. Find out more about our work: www.immunology.org