Black Scientists’ Task Force warns of dangers of “Long COVID”

By Lincoln DePradine

Dr Candice Todd

The panic and fear over the virus have largely subsided and political leaders have lifted many of the protocols that were put in place to protect against the infection and spread of COVID-19. However, people are still dying of COVID-related illnesses, and some who were infected and survived the deadly disease – that has killed more than 6.6 million people worldwide since 2020 – still are experiencing what the Canadian government describes as “physical and psychological symptoms more than 12 weeks after getting COVID-19. This is called post COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID’’.

The Liberal Party administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the government’s official website, says that long COVID condition “may occur in some people weeks or months after their initial infection. People who have been hospitalized, or who needed intensive care during recovery, appear to be at greater risk of experiencing longer-term effects’’.

Canadians also are warned that long COVID “can impact both adults and children’’, with many reporting its effect on their mental health, including experiencing anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The situation is of such concern to some Black community members that they have organized a special online townhall meeting called, “Understanding Long COVID & its Impact on Mental Health’’.

The lead organizer of the townhall, to be held Thursday, December 15, 1 pm – 2.30 pm, is the Black Scientists’ Task Force (BSTF)

Dr David Burt

on Vaccine Equity.

“COVID is still a problem. People who are most vulnerable – particularly Black folks including adolescents – when they get long COVID, it has long-term consequences that include mental health problems,’’ said health specialist and BSTF founding-member Dr Akwatu Khenti.

“We really need to be aware of what’s involved in long COVID; what are the symptoms and signs of long COVID, so that we manage it well.’’

BSTF, after its establishment with the backing of the City of Toronto, embarked on a series community outreach exercises to raise awareness of the dangers of the Coronavirus, as well as “the need for comprehensive prevention efforts, including knowledge of the various vaccines’’.

Task Force members also attempted, and succeeded, in reducing the rate of under-vaccination in the Black and Caribbean community.

BSTF, co-chaired by immunologist Dr David Burt and Candice Todd, a naturopathic doctor, has been encouraging ongoing vaccination and the wearing of masks indoors and within enclosed spaces in the winter months, now that Canadians are confronting a “tridemic’’ of COVID-19, seasonal influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

“If you’ve been vaccinated, your chances of getting Long COVID can be mitigated; and that’s another reason why it’s important to get a vaccine. Vaccine reduces your chances of getting Long COVID by up to 50 percent,’’ said Burt, who will join Todd and three other healthcare professionals at next week’s townhall that is open to the public.

Khenti, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, agreed with Burt’s position on vaccination.

“Why risk getting long COVID which could debilitate you for a long period of time, when you’ve got a vaccine there that actually could either prevent it or reduce the scope of it?  The same risk factors – such as high blood, smoking, diabetes and obesity – that made Black people initially vulnerable for COVID, also make them susceptible for long COVID,’’ said Khenti.

Apart from the mental health challenges of long COVID, said Khenti, it also could affect a person’s memory and exhibits other signs such as fatigue, shortness of breath, periodic fever and flu-like symptoms.

“Being Black requires all hands on deck. You’ve got to be in good shape to deal with the stress that comes with being a Black person in this society,’’ Khenti said.

For more information on the December 15 townhall on “Understanding Long COVID & its Impact on Mental Health’’, email BLACKTORONTOCOVID@GMAIL.COM

LJI Reporter