Health & Science

As funding for Long COVID research runs out, Houston area advocate calls for at least $1 billion a year over next decade

Research for Long COVID used to be funded by the National Institutes of Health. Advocates are asking for at least $1 billion over the next 10 years for research funding and clinical trials.

Man in a white protective mask, looking outside through a window, during recovery from COVID illness in home.
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Man in a white protective mask, looking outside through a window, during recovery from COVID illness in home.

Liza Fisher was diagnosed with a rare neurological issue where the body can forget how to breathe or pump blood because of Long COVID. She said Houston is one of the few places with specialists who could help her recover.

"My Long COVID experience was very severe. I was disabled. I was in a wheelchair for a couple of years. I had to re-learn how to walk, talk, I had speech therapy, all of the things, and now have a plethora of diagnoses," Fisher said.

Fisher is now calling for lawmakers to invest more funding in Long COVID research because current funding has run out.

Research for Long COVID used to be funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Moonshot for Long COVID movement is one effort advocates are using to bring awareness to Long COVID in the hopes of continued funding. They are asking for at least $1 billion a year over the next 10 years for research funding and clinical trials.

Fisher spent several months in a rehab hospital in the Heights. She said there are many others like her, but receiving help is not easy for everyone.

"A lot of people are entering disability and losing their jobs, they're unable to work as much and they're losing a lot of healthcare coverage and they're just falling out of the system," she said.

Texas is often ranked as one of the worst states for healthcare access, and a survey from earlier this year shows an increasing number of Texans are struggling to afford healthcare.

Fisher said Long COVID currently has no unified definition.

"It's kind of difficult to describe... any type of symptoms related to your acute COVID infection that generally lasts for six weeks after the infection and up to an undetermined length amount of time," she said.

More common symptoms include loss of taste, smell fatigue, brain fog, and loss of neuromuscular activity like Fisher had. The CDC defines Long COVID as a wide range of ongoing health problems that can last weeks, months, or years.

"[Long COVID] is real. There needs to be a lot more education around it," Fisher said. "But it's very impactful, not only to an individual's life experience, to the entire family support system. ... Not only did I have to leave the workforce, but my mother had to leave the workforce to care for me."

Editor’s note: This story was corrected to clarify that advocates are asking for $1 billion a year, for the next 10 years. It was previously stated that advocates asked for $1 billion over the course of 10 years.