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Can vaccines help COVID-19 'long-haulers?'

Monica Berry, who has suffered from COVID-19 symptoms for months, says she is finally feeling better after getting the Pfizer vaccine.

TOLEDO, Ohio — COVID-19 "long-haulers," or patients still suffering from symptoms weeks and months after having it, may have some hope.

Monica Berry, who lives in Tiffin, Iowa and is part of a COVID-19 long haulers group on Facebook, says she's finally feeling better after getting the Pfizer vaccine.

"It was literally the next day that I felt like a completely different person," she said.

Berry put up with months of persisting symptoms including fatigue, body aches, migraines, headaches, blurred vision, high heart rate and increased anxiety. She tested positive for COVID-19 back in November.

Dr. Brian Kaminski with ProMedica says around 10 to 30 percent of COVID-19 patients will continue to have symptoms. Many symptoms, like headaches, are subjective to each patient but others, like breathing issues and lung damage, are measurable. 

As for the vaccine, Kaminski says like the virus, they are still learning what reaction long-haulers are having to it. And in cases like Berry's, they are studying whether it's the vaccine or a placebo effect that is helping to relieve symptoms.

"Right now we just don't know the difference between the two," he said, "because we're getting a lot of reports of people that feel better after their vaccine. We're getting reports of people that had a brief reactivation of their symptoms."

Millie McKell is still facing her own long COVID issues including headaches, but mostly extreme fatigue.

"Exhaustion, rapid heart rate, my heart rate is no less than 100 daily," she said.

She now uses an inhaler where she never had asthma or any respiratory issues. She says she's thankful for her doctors but admits it's been a learning curve for them too.

"They tell me you know to be patient that my body just needs time," she said, "and I'm like, well, how many more months is it going to take for me to feel like a normal person?"

Some symptoms have gone away and McKell says she's hopeful and open to getting the vaccine. 

Meanwhile, Kaminski says more time and research is needed to know if its the vaccine, a placebo effect or just time that is helping these long-haulers to heal.

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