WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Dr. Anthony Facui, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) about research and studies being conducted on those who are experiencing long-term symptoms from COVID-19, the long-term health impacts of those who have recovered from acute illness, as well as the development of therapeutics to mitigate and prevent COVID-19. She also discussed her bipartisan legislation to direct NIH to conduct a longitudinal study on COVID to ensure we gain a full understanding of its short and long-term health impacts, including on diverse populations. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: Dr. Fauci, when we last spoke in March, you shared that NIH had just launched a billion-dollar initiative to study the long-term effects of COVID-19 and identify potential prevention and treatment measures for the [COVID-19] “long haulers.” Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, there are so many gaps in the research and unknowns for the people who have been infected and are still suffering. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that NIH will continue to be able to work with the CDC on comprehensive and longitudinal studies of a diverse group of COVID-19 patients. I know some of this research has been done, and it’s going to go forward.
So, you shared earlier some updates on “long COVID.” Can you speak to the research gaps that remain for learning more about the long-term effects, such as lung capacity and heart function, some of the things that people really seem to be struggling with once they’ve recovered from their initial symptoms?
FAUCI: Thank you very much for that question. Yes, we have initiated a series of studies. First of all, building up cohorts so that we can get enough individuals in the cohort to be able to do the kinds of studies that you’re going to do.
As I mentioned in response to a prior question, it’s a multi-institute endeavor involving multiple NIH institutes with different interests and different organ systems. Just as you said, the National Institute of Heart, Lung, and Blood is one that is looking at some of the issues that you raised in your question. The National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health, and my institute, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
We’ve also just now started the request for applications to be able to gather the cohorts and do those types of studies. There’s a considerable amount of interest in this and a major commitment on the part of the NIH to study this thoroughly to fill in some of the gaps that still remain as to what the pathogenesis of this particular syndrome is; because it is a real syndrome. That is very troubling to a large number of patients.
ROSEN: Thank you. I’d like to move to the other part of this equation which is the therapeutic research and development, because even though people are getting vaccinated, there are still people getting sick and suffering chronic pain and illnesses as a result of COVID-19.
And so, we have to be sure we have those tools to be able to treat any cases that come forward. Could you give us any update about what therapeutics might be in the pipeline? And is there a potential for any of these treatments to help some of the “long-haulers?” Maybe it can treat acute and chronic illnesses as a result of the function of COVID.
FAUCI: Senator, it’s an excellent question, but it’s almost impossible to talk about treatment when you don’t know what the underlying pathogenesis is. So, that’s the reason why the studies are starting off by gathering the cohorts and trying to find out if there is a mechanism for some of the symptomatology – the profound fatigue, the muscle aches, the temperature dysregulation, the sleep disorder, the brain fog as they call it.
So, we don’t know exactly what the mechanism of this symptomatology is. So, for that reason, it becomes very difficult to do anything other than symptomatic treatment for these individuals. That’s why it’s so important to do the studies that we’re planning to do, so that hopefully, when we understand the mechanisms, we’ll be able to have some therapeutic intervention.
ROSEN: Thank you. I appreciate that because moving forward; it’s going to be really important to our health care workers, to our hospital capacities globally around the world. I look forward to reconnecting with you as we begin to see more results of this really important longitudinal research and the progress it’s making.