Katrina Lee, News Editor
Varsha Vasudevan, Staff Writer
Researchers at VCU are participating in a national study aiming to examine the long-term effects of COVID-19.
The National Institutes of Health created this initiative, named RECOVER, an acronym for Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery, according to Pediatric Principal Investigator at RECOVER Rachel Gross.
RECOVER is an observational study aimed to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children and adults, according to Gross.
VCU’s part of the study is focusing on the long-term effects — or long COVID — on children, according to Amy Salisbury, associate dean of research at the School of Nursing and principal investigator of the grant. The researchers are currently in phase one of the study, which involves recruiting 240 participants between the ages of 0 and 25.
In phase two, they will look at the development of children and young adults, such as their mental health, social aspects and attention span, Salisbury said.
“We are very aware that this is not just a virus and a potential long term impact from the virus itself,” Salisbury said.
Long COVID is the long-term effects from the COVID-19 virus some people have been experiencing after their infection. These effects include respiratory and heart symptoms, digestive symptoms, neurological symptoms and other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The study will be using surveys, blood samples and saliva samples from the participants in order to learn more about the impacts of the virus, according to Salisbury. She said the principal investigators are looking at a “multi-system” impact on the human body. The study will take place over the next four years.
“There’s not going to be just one system that’s affected. We’ve all heard it’s your lungs. It’s how you’re thinking about things — sort of brain fog,” Salisbury said.
A study this large focusing on the long term effect of COVID-19 has never been conducted before, Salisbury said. The scale of this initiative is “unprecedented.”
There were a total of about 5.1 million weekly COVID-19 cases in children between the ages 5 and 11 and a total of about 5.7 million positive cases for children ages 12 and 17 as of June 12, according to the most recent data by the CDC.
“VCU is involved in something that’s groundbreaking, I think is really important. And, put us at the table for you know, giving some feedback and impact input from our state, because we’re the only site in Virginia funded through this mechanism,” Salisbury said.
Clinical Research Coordinator for RECOVER at VCU Lindsey Stevenson stated all participants would be paid up to $100 for the first part of the study.
Pediatric Principal Investigator at RECOVER Rachel Gross leads the study focused on children and young adults and said VCU is a “pediatric hub” for recruiting participants up to age 25.
The study was aiming to have about 20,000 children or young adults and their caregivers participating, Gross said. The study is attempting to answer questions such as how many children are getting long COVID, what causes long COVID in children and why some children are affected by it while others are not, according to Gross.
“Ultimately, we want to understand how having long COVID affects the child’s physical health, their mental health and even their development,” Gross said.
There is a need for this type of research because children are an especially vulnerable population to long COVID, Gross said.
“I often think of children in many ways as sort of having hidden effects of long COVID because of the pandemic,” Gross said. “They may not have been affected as severely in the beginning in the pandemic, but there are so many impacts that COVID is having on them, on so many aspects of their life over time.”
VCU’s participation in the study was important because VCU represents a “really important population” of racially and ethnically diverse individuals, according to Gross.
“We’re looking for families that live in rural areas or families that live in urban areas or cities or more suburban areas,” Gross said. “We want families from across the country so we can really understand the problem and everyone.”
Gross said she hopes the current study will provide foundation for future clinical trials and potential treatments for long COVID.
“That is one of the main goals of RECOVER — to be able to provide the basis for those next steps, clinical trials in pediatrics, to be able to understand how to prevent injuries,” Gross said.
RECOVER is currently looking for and encouraging families across the U.S. to participate in the study, according to Gross.
“We really need families’ help in being able to answer the questions that we mentioned,” Gross said. “We’re, you know, here to partner with them and be able to help children and their health in the future.”