Australia needs to acknowledge the significant long COVID problem we are facing, Burnet Director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC told a public hearing this morning.
“The likelihood of half a million Australians or so with long COVID now needs to be acknowledged,” Professor Crabb told the House of Representatives Inquiry into Long COVID and Repeated COVID Infections.
“If the committee achieved nothing else but penetrating the Australian psyche around the significance of this issue, it will have achieved a lot: it will have achieved a lot for patients and will have achieved a lot for what happens in future.
“What we really want, as well as that, is strong direct recommendations that impact things straightaway.”
Professor Crabb put forward four high-level recommendations.
The first was proper acknowledgement of the issue.
“I think that the time that anyone talks publicly about acute COVID, and doesn’t bring up long COVID should be over… that would help enormously. The messaging does matter,” he said.
The second was around preventing COVID-19 infections.
While at the moment we don’t have technical solutions to long COVID, he said, prevention is both really important and very achievable.
“The effective reproductive rate [of the virus] is not much above one ever,” Professor Crabb said.
“There are things we can do that have nothing to do with lockdowns or with rules or with mandates that make an enormous difference. Clean air being at the top of that list.”
Compare clean air to the situation with clean water, Professor Crabb said.
“We don’t think much about clean water, because public health has advanced to the point where public authorities take care of that for us.”
In the future, we’d ultimately like to have a similar attitude to air, which would have benefits far beyond COVID alone.
The third recommendation was doing more for people currently experiencing long COVID.
Professor Crabb said Australia’s strategy is largely based around acute COVID and protecting vulnerable people who are older or may be immunocompromised again hospitalisation and death.
“Those who are most vulnerable from long COVID are not those groups,” he said.
“Women between the ages of 30 and 55 are more likely to contract long COVID… they’re left out at the moment.”
In addition to acknowledging our long COVID problem in Australia, Professor Crabb said other things we could do right away include longer GP consultations, considering what to do with long COVID and the NDIS, and any sort of Medicare-related relief for people with long COVID.
Professor Crabb’s final recommendation was to research our way out of this problem, both for people experiencing long COVID now and those who may experience it in the future.
“Top class research can be done here, you don’t need to wait for it to be done elsewhere,” he said.
And being very active in this research also helps us translate findings from both our own work and the work of others into solutions quickly that will work for Australian patients.
Specifically, Professor Crabb called for a group to be formed with relevant state and federal representatives that could very quickly come up with pragmatic actions to address long COVID and also help frame the key questions that need asking.
“The most important is to be able to diagnose the different forms of long COVID, assess the risks associated with each, and come up with a treatment plan for each,” he said.
“There’s things we can do along all of those lines now and… I think it’s going to continue to evolve. We’ll need a living guidelines-type system or some form of being able to reappraise it all the time.”
He also called for better coordination around the funding mechanism for this research.
“There’s funding with good purpose from discovery through to translation, but it is fragmented,” Professor Crabb said.
“We’ve learned a lot as an ecosystem. And I think that’s a crucial way of making the funding we’ve got work better.”
CLICK HERE to read about Burnet Institute’s written submission to the Inquiry.