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'I have hope now': Some COVID-19 long-haulers feel better after getting vaccinated

Dr. Eric Herman, head of OHSU's Long COVID-19 Program, says some patients report feeling worse but most feel the same or much better after getting their second dose.

PORTLAND, Oregon — Two shots in the arm may be the relief COVID-19 long-haulers have waited months for.

Some people dealing with lingering symptoms report feeling better after getting vaccinated, including one of the first Oregonians KGW spoke with battling long COVID.

A previously healthy marathon runner, COVID-19 wreaked chaos on Jennifer English's body and life.

"It's been a long year. It's been a long treacherous year," English said. "Just still exhausted all the time."

No treatment helped until she got the COVID-19 vaccine.

She read posts in a long-hauler support group, Survivor Corps, that some survivors felt better after getting the vaccine. Others did say they felt worse.

"It was a no-brainer for me. Of course I was a little concerned as to how it was going to affect my body," English said. "But anything to not ever go through what I’ve gone through in the last year again was absolutely worth it to me. At that point I’d try anything to feel better."

Shot one wiped her out; all her original COVID symptoms returned, including exhaustion, tachycardia, brain fog, leg spasms and fever. But nine days later she improved.

"I was starting to feel like I was living again," English added.

She says she had back pain after the second shot. Then quickly bounced back a few days later, feeling even better.

"No exhaustion, tachycardia was gone, leg spasms were gone. I was sleeping through the night finally!" English said.

That was two weeks ago. Today, she feels about 70-percent back to normal. While she says the virus left long-term damage in her brain, pituitary gland and heart tissue, English feels more like herself for the first time in over a year.

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"I've been out in the garage, I made a table. I set up my backyard for summer with lights and everything. I've done more in the last three days than I have in the last year."  

Researchers around the country are looking into why any of the vaccines might help long-haulers like English.

Dr. Eric Herman, head of OHSU's Long COVID-19 Program, says some patients report feeling worse. But most feel the same or much better after getting their second dose.

"There's no peer reviewed data specifically yet to prove that. But there are some theories, some ideas," Dr. Herman told KGW.

One theory is that a reservoir of the virus lingers in the body and the vaccine helps find it.

"Another could be that this helps to refocus or sharpen the immune system to COVID or some of COVID fragments. And there's also the idea that this could potentially reset the immune system," Dr. Herman said.

RELATED: COVID-19: The Long Haul

Because long-haulers develop a hyperactive and dysfunctional immune system that creates an autoimmune process, Herman said another theory is the vaccine resets the immune system to be better regulated.

Dr. Herman said there's no evidence or data yet showing one vaccine helps long-haulers more than another.

He encourages people dealing with lingering COVID symptoms to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others. So does English.

"It's a blessing. It's my blessing. I'm able to get up and help my kids and make them food and everything else. I almost feel like life is starting to finally get back to normal and that I have hope now," English said. "I was so afraid that I was just going to be debilitated for the rest of my life and this has brought me more hope than anything has in the last year."