COVID Q & A: our virologist answers

2 March 2022

While cases are dropping and restrictions are easing right now in Australia, there are still concerns around ‘long COVID’, where the effects of the virus continue even after recovery from acute infection, and the potential for new variants to arise.

IMB virologist Dr Larisa Labzin answers questions on long COVID and whether scientists could eventually develop a vaccine against all COVID-19 variants.

Do we know how long COVID is triggered?

There’s still a lot to learn about long COVID, including its exact triggers, but researchers around the world, including here at IMB, are actively researching the differences between people who get long COVID and those that don’t.

We know that in animal models of long COVID, there is excessive inflammation which can affect brain function1. We are trying to understand how persistent inflammation after infection drives long COVID, so that we can work out how best to treat it.

We are also actively investigating how long COVID affects our cardiovascular system, so that we can treat many of the long COVID symptoms.

This is why fundamental research into how our bodies work is so important and why studying the basics of diseases matters: if we know how long COVID gets triggered, we can work out how to prevent and treat it.

Listen to Larisa's recent podcast

Larisa, a virologist and dedicated researcher, discusses the almost insurmountable challenges she has faced to continue her vital COVID-19 and infectious disease research in face of a global pandemic. 

Do other viruses have long-term effects or is COVID an exception?

Yes, other viruses can have long-term effects, and it’s a hot topic in research right now.  For instance, researchers recently confirmed that Multiple Sclerosis (MS) occurs after an infection with Epstein Barr Virus (EBV)2. Not everyone who gets EBV gets MS, but most people who have MS have had EBV. So a lot of relatively mild viral infections might be behind many autoimmune and other chronic conditions.

Is there a vaccine that could work for all variants of COVID-19, even future variants?

COVID vaccine vial and syringe

A vaccine that works against all variants of SARS-CoV-2, and indeed against other related coronaviruses, is the holy grail for vaccine research. These types of vaccines are in development and show promise in being protective against multiple different viruses3.

Researchers are also aiming to develop vaccine strategies that prevent onward transmission of the virus, as well as protecting against severe disease (which our current vaccines are excellent at doing). This is particularly difficult to achieve, and even harder with a virus like SARS-CoV-2, which infects the respiratory tract.

To overcome this, some researchers are testing out potential nasal vaccines – so the immune system gets extra important information about the kind of immunity it needs to build: one that protects the lung4. Fortunately, the vaccines we have now protect well against severe disease, but there is hope for even better vaccines in the future.

Meet our Researchers: Dr Larisa Labzin