Son of top Biden science adviser suffers from 'long COVID'

·National Correspondent
·3-min read

WASHINGTON — Andy Slavitt, a top adviser on the coronavirus pandemic to President Biden, revealed on Tuesday that his teenage son suffers from “long COVID,” a plethora of symptoms that continue to hound people who’ve been sickened with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Some of those symptoms can persist for months, making long COVID a public health challenge even as the pandemic otherwise ebbs.

“He is young and fit and in the prime of his life,” Slavitt said, “but six months later he still suffers from tachycardia, shortness of breath and ongoing and frequent flulike symptoms. His hands are cold to the touch.”

Slavitt said his son contracted the coronavirus sometime last fall, when infection rates were much higher than they are today and vaccines were not yet available.

In this image from video, Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, speaks during a White House briefing on the Biden administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Washington. (White House via AP)
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 response team, on Jan. 27. (White House via AP)

“I know that it’s easy when you’re young to imagine that these things don’t affect you,” Slavitt said. “A vaccine may feel unnecessary. You feel healthy. You know people who’ve had COVID, and they’re doing all right. But we’re still learning about the long-term effects of COVID.” He added that younger people appear to be falling more seriously ill with COVID-19.

Slavitt made his comments during a Tuesday briefing of the White House pandemic response team. He began that briefing by jokingly referring to the kinds of graduation speeches that bore high school and college graduates throughout the month of May, drolly dispensing clichéd advice to “live up to your potential” and “make the world a better place.”

His real message, though, was for young people to get vaccinated. Many of them had already been able to do so, since coronavirus vaccines had been approved for people 16 and older. Last week they were approved for younger adolescents as well.

Some people appear to experience long COVID even after only a mild bout with the disease. The phenomenon seems to have lingering effects on cardiovascular health and cognitive function. Patients also say they experience fatigue.

Because SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen behind the coronavirus pandemic, is barely a year old, its long-term effects on human health are not yet known. And whereas COVID-19 was initially described as a lower respiratory disease, it appears to affect other aspects of physiological function.

Ilcira Roca receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from Yelany Lima, a Registered Nurse, at the UHealth's pediatric mobile clinic on May 17, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Ilcira Roca receives a COVID-19 vaccine from registered nurse Yelany Lima in Miami on Monday. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Writing in the New York Times in March, two sufferers of long COVID described it as a “debilitating condition with full-body symptoms.” They argued that it is “one of the most devastating outcomes of the pandemic, and will likely put a strain on our society and economy for years to come.”

As Slavitt made clear on Tuesday, the easiest way to not get long COVID is to not get COVID in the first place. And the easiest way to avoid COVID is with a coronavirus vaccine.

“Young people have been through a lot in this pandemic,” Slavitt said, mentioning disrupted schooling, vacations missed and job searches stunted. Vaccines, he said, were the ticket out, back to normal.

At an Oklahoma City vaccination clinic last week, a 12-year-old sat for his inoculation with an enthusiasm that might have given Slavitt hope. “I could not care less about any side effects,” he told a local news affiliate. “I want the shot.”

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