Colon said Paxlovid still works as advertised and prevents more severe illness from the virus, even when these rebound cases occur. The concern with rebound COVID is that people are still infectious.
“We don’t yet have a great sense of how often the rebound phenomena is occurring,” Colon said, explaining there has not been a large enough study to answer that question and the rebound cases are not being tracked. The president’s physician noted it was a “small percentage of patients” treated with Paxlovid.
These rebound cases are different than reinfections. Doctors describe reinfections as when patients recover from COVID-19 and completely rid themselves of the virus before getting COVID-19 again after a larger amount of time has passed, more than a few days.
Colon said doctors are seeing this more with the newer variants of COVID-19, like the subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 of the Omicron variant. He explained these new variants are different enough from past variants to overcome immune defenses and cause patients to get COVID again.
Doctors also anticipate more reinfections will become common as time goes on in the pandemic.
“We are actually seeing this pretty often,” Colon said about COVID reinfections. He said the body still offers some protection from the previous COVID antibodies.
The risk with COVID reinfections appears to be a greater risk of people getting long COVID. Colon said every infection someone gets increases their risk of developing more problems and increasing the risk for long COVID.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) describes long COVID, or “post-COVID conditions,” as when people who have been infected with the virus continue to experience the long-term effects of their infection. Those can include a range of ongoing health issues, from general symptoms of fatigue to respiratory and heart symptoms, neurological symptoms like “brain fog,” and digestive symptoms.
According to the CDC, a survey in June showed that of adults in the U.S. who reported having COVID-19 in the past, one in five of those adults also reported they are still having symptoms of long COVID.
Studies are ongoing to help health officials understand more about COVID reinfections and risks associated with reinfection.