From Long COVID Odds to Lost IQ Points: Ongoing Threats You Don’t Know About

Stuck in a fog of misleading narratives, most of us don’t see the true extent of COVID’s persisting—and intensifying—threats. INET’s Lynn Parramore talks to Dr. Phillip Alvelda about the dangers we’re missing and the failures of public health agencies to inform and protect us. *This is Part 1 of a two-part interview.

We’re done with the pandemic, right? Well, heads up: it’s still here, and it’s quietly causing havoc in ways you likely aren’t even aware of. Getting COVID repeatedly – including asymptomatic infections you never knew you had — can damage your health for years to come and dramatically increase your chances of Long COVID. Low vaccination rates, waning immunity, and ditching precautions have left us wide open to a host of serious problems that are entirely avoidable.

Did you know that COVID is nothing like the flu, and yearly vaccines can’t keep up with its rapid mutations? Or that even mild infections have been shown to cause a drop in IQ points? How about the fact that 90% of Long COVID cases come from mild or asymptomatic infections? Or that repeat infections can make you susceptible to heart attacks, strokes, and diseases like measles, Polio, or Diabetes? Did you know that, at the current rate of infections, most Americans may end up with some form of Long COVID?

Probably not, because nobody’s telling you.

Dr. Phillip Alvelda, a former program manager in DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, which pioneered the synthetic biology industry and mRNA vaccine technology, is the founder of Medio Labs, a major COVID diagnostic testing company. Alvelda has closely monitored COVID developments and points out that while we’ve grown complacent, it’s not solely our doing. He criticizes the failure of governments and health agencies like the CDC and the WHO to warn about Long COVID and reinfection, as well as their neglect of effective mitigation strategies and tracking systems. Disturbingly, he discusses negligence, and even deception, about what they knew, when they knew it, and how they protected themselves without informing the public. It all adds up to a grave injustice, he says, warning of what he calls the potential for a “lost generation” — our health needlessly risked. Amazingly, it’s all avoidable.

Alvelda talks to the Institute for New Economic Thinking about how what we don’t know will definitely hurt us.

Lynn Parramore: A recent Gallup poll says that 59% of Americans believe the pandemic is over. What’s the actual situation?

Phillip Alvelda: By no means is it over. It is a continuing pandemic that most nations are not only failing to address — but are addressing more and more poorly.

LP: So most of us are currently living in a false reality?

PA: That’s correct.

LP: What do we need to know about emerging COVID variants and the current effectiveness of vaccines?

PA: The key thing is that when we refer to a variant, we’re talking about a new strain of the virus that has mutated in a way that allows it to bypass the effects of the vaccine, leading to a resurgence because the older vaccines no longer work as well against it. So, the longer the time interval since your last booster, the less effective your immunity becomes, making it easier for you to catch the newest strain of COVID. That’s piece number one.

Number two, this means that we’re going to have successive waves of new variants until more stringent measures are undertaken to eliminate them. As long as COVID is only now immediately killing one and a half percent of the people that get it, the government seems to think that’s an okay death toll to live with.

When we’re talking about COVID, there are all sorts of ways for a government or even a public health organization to hide or downplay its effects, like tweaking or shutting off data or just not talking about it, but if you look at the increase in deaths and the ailments people are succumbing to, you can see that the COVID death toll continues. The really concerning issue finally starting to gain attention—something we’ve been saying for a couple of years—is the toll of Long COVID.

LP: Before we dive into Long COVID, let’s touch on current vaccine guidance. The CDC now recommends that people 65 and over get an updated shot if their last one was four months ago or longer. It also says everyone else over the age of 6 months should get an updated vaccine, but it says nothing about timing. With the virus mutating, that message seems muddled, doesn’t it?

PA: I agree, it’s muddled and it’s terrible – and that’s the way it has been throughout the pandemic. The CDC’s past claims – put out with certainty — that the virus wasn’t airborne, that you’re fine with 6 feet distancing, and so on – all that was wrong. And the problems of communication and guidance continue. The CDC is now saying that infected people can go out in public if their symptoms are improving and they have been fever-free for 24 hours without medication. That goes against science, which says that people can still transmit the virus for up to 14 days after infection. Even though a person might feel better, they can’t tell that they are, in fact, still infectious.

The UK and the US are among the few nations where public health agencies have been subverted, controlled, and confused by the political machinery. As a result, they’ve abandoned their public health mission and are merely making a minimal effort to maintain politics and economics as usual. The reality is that everyone, from infants on up, would benefit dramatically from receiving a booster every six months. What you need is the most updated vaccine available, whether that’s a booster of the most recent formulation or a new vaccine designed for a completely new set of variants. Essentially, you should be getting whatever is the latest available.

LP: So regardless of age or health condition, we should all be getting a shot every six months? Not once a year as we’ve been led to think?

PA: Yes, that’s correct. It’s that simple. Every six months. Health agencies are trying to get people to treat COVID like other diseases, even though it’s actually very different. They’re trying to get us used to the idea of getting an annual booster, similar to what you do for the flu. But COVID variants progress faster than that, which is why COVID is a very different situation.

LP: So it’s known that a shot once a year isn’t going to cut it, even though the CDC won’t come out and say it?

PA: That’s right.

LP: Let’s talk about the effects of repeat COVID infections on our bodies. Say, I’ve had an infection or two, but with very mild symptoms. What might these infections be silently doing to my immune system and overall health?

PA: Even a mild or asymptomatic infection can harm the immune system. It can make you susceptible to new diseases that might not have bothered you before, but now, with your weakened immune system, these new diseases can find a foothold and attack you. Also, conditions that may have been dormant or held in check in your body by your immune system could resurface now that it’s weakened – things like shingles, HIV, or a resurgence of herpes. We’re seeing resurgences of all those things in the general population. We’re also seeing a resurgence in measles, whooping cough, and polio — all these things that we thought we’d gotten rid of. Whooping cough cases have been exploding in the UK. Our mass herd immunity is weakened and those diseases are all coming up again.

Beyond that, getting a COVID infection can double your risk of heart attack, increase the risk of stroke by three times, and double the risk of diabetes. All these things happen as a result of your COVID infection, and they persist for as much as two years, even if you had a mild or even an asymptomatic infection.

LP: Most people don’t seem to realize that half of COVID cases are thought to be asymptomatic. So if I’ve had the virus – and I may not even know it because I didn’t have so much as a sniffle. Yet I still may have future health consequences, even years later. That’s pretty sobering.

PA: That’s right. And the scary thing is that now this is not a speculative thing. We know that the virus attacks and kills the neurons in the brain any time you are infected. We can measure the shrinkage of your brain matter. Even an asymptomatic case of COVID can result in IQ points lost. Neuroscientist Danielle Beckman and others who specialize in brain pathology microscopy have been studying how the virus infects and damages the brain — including brain abnormalities still showing up in people two years after recovering from a COVID infection. She regularly posts images and videos on that show the virus destroying neurons.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that people who have recovered from mild COVID-19 cases lose about 3 IQ points. Those with long COVID see a 6-point drop, while ICU patients lose 9 points. Just getting reinfected was associated with losing an extra 2 points in IQ. A peer-reviewed study just out reports that 90% of Long COVID patients had mild or asymptomatic initial infections.

LP: My guess is that the majority of people have no clue about this.

PA: Tens of millions of people don’t know it. And they don’t know that there’s a surge in incidences of a whole bunch of other diseases that really are because of the Long COVID effect.

You don’t realize that all kinds of symptoms you might be experiencing actually come from Long COVID. The challenge is that the virus can attack you anywhere in your body. You’re vulnerable wherever you happen to have a weakness to begin with. The cognitive impact might show up as anxiety, depression, or lack of emotion. You might experience postural tachycardia, which means that when you stand up, your heart rate shoots up. Or maybe you just can’t exercise the way you could anymore. You’ve lost lung capacity.

My friend Bryan Johnson, a high-profile billionaire, is spending two million dollars annually to rigorously monitor his system, focusing on markers that indicate the age of each of his organs. He had an asymptomatic COVID infection that aged his lungs 13 years.

LP: Wow. A case with zero symptoms did that much damage to his lungs?

PA: That is correct.

LP: Why isn’t this kind of information all over the media?

PA: I think the real problem is that the mainstream media has been kind of decimated by the current business model and they’re less capable of doing real journalism anymore. They just publish the stuff that comes to them. The major channels of information are, unfortunately, propaganda channels from governments. The World Health Organization (WHO) denied the fact that COVID was airborne for a long time. It took them until the end of 2021 to unequivocally admit it. They denied it despite the fact that in 2020, aerosol experts were warning that the virus was airborne, and scientists even signed an open letter pleading that health agencies and governments recognize this reality. But the WHO’s prolonged process of correcting the mistake led to a great deal of confusion – and sickness and death.

It came out recently that in February 2020, the WHO put out an office memorandum about a return to their Geneva office scheduled for May 2020. In the memo, the WHO disclosed that they’d upgraded all of the air handling systems as well as their filtering systems. While they were telling the public at large to wash their hands and don’t worry, it’s not airborne, they upgraded all the airborne protections for their offices. They absolutely knew and they refused to admit it over and over.

LP: It certainly doesn’t produce confidence when they stuck to that stance despite the evidence and researchers’ warnings. We weren’t told that COVID was airborne, to our detriment. What aren’t we being told now that could hurt us?

PA: There are several things. For example, you could catch the measles all of a sudden. That’s what can happen with a weakened immune system due to COVID infections.

LP: When we hear about measles cases cropping up, we may think of vaccine hesitancy fueled by misinformation propagated by figures like RFK Jr. But you’re saying COVID-weakened immune systems play a role?

PA: Both of these things are happening. It’s sometimes hard to tease apart exactly which one is more important. But we know both are there.

LP: What aren’t we being told about Long COVID?

PA: We know about the ongoing seriousness of Long COVID because of the survey information and the continuing excess deaths. We also know of it because of the drop in labor participation attributed to long-term disability from disease. All of these things are coming through. We see long-term illnesses that only started to spike when the pandemic began, and really took off when all the mitigations were lifted.

There may even be active deception around this topic. A graph was recently put out by the ONS [Office for National Statistics in the UK]. The text on the graph states that the majority of Long COVID cases were contracted from cases people had more than two years ago, and at first glance, the graph seems to support the assertion. But if you look at the graph a little more closely, you realize they’ve monkeyed with the X-axis and the size of the bins [groups of data within a specified range] for each one of the bars in the chart. If you actually fix the X-axis, it’s clear that Long COVID has been skyrocketing in the last year. It appears that the ONS may have purposely manipulated the chart to hide the fact that Long COVID is exploding right now, because building such a jimmied custom chart takes MUCH more work than simply plotting the data.

LP: Why would cases of Long COVID be exploding now? Is it because more people have had multiple infections?

PA: Yes, that’s part of it. People are getting COVID because they’ve removed all of the abatements. During the last Omicron wave, more people were infected with Omicron than with any other variant that came before it. Another factor in the increase in Long COVID is that the booster and new vaccine uptake has fallen way down. In September 2022, new bivalent COVID-19 boosters became available in the United States, but only 19% of Americans got a shot. That means only 19% of people had any real protection from Omicron. People think, oh, I’ve gotten COVID, so that should give me some immunity. That’s actually wrong. It turns out that having COVID once gives you a little bit of immunity to that variant, but it doesn’t really give you much immunity at all to the next variant. So with new variants emerging every month, you only have about four to six weeks of immunity, effectively, from catching COVID.

So people are getting more and more vulnerable. More and more are getting infected. And unless people start masking or we start upgrading the indoor air quality, you’re going to see these patterns continue. Every time you have COVID, it damages your immune system a little bit more. And with every new infection, your chances of getting Long COVID increase – and not by a little bit. Today, the statistics in the UK and the US are pretty similar. Tulane School of Medicine’s Michael Hoerger calculates that the average US citizen has by now had COVID 3.2 times. He further estimates that if we continue with the status quo, the average American will have had it 7.3 times in four years.

LP: If the average American has already had COVID 3.2 times, that alone makes it a very different illness from something like the flu. I don’t know anyone who has had the flu three times in the last couple of years, do you?

PA: No. I don’t.

LP: And again, many people are getting COVID without symptoms, so they don’t realize they’re getting reinfected.

PA:. Correct. When the next wave of infections is here, everyone who gets it will be at greater risk of getting Long COVID. Each infection increases the cumulative risk.

LP: On the CDC website, it states: “Each time a person is infected or reinfected with SARS-CoV-2, they have a risk of developing Long COVID.” But it doesn’t say anything about the cumulative effect that makes your risk go way with each infection. Are they downplaying the risk of reinfection?

PA: That’s correct. And remember, people are having health issues that they don’t understand to be related to COVID. Even before the pandemic, life expectancy had been dropping for many in the US. For example, people without a bachelor’s degree have a life expectancy of 8 ½ years shorter than people with a BA. That was revealed in the new study by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton.

Unfortunately, when you add the effects of COVID infections, life spans are going to be even shorter. Beyond that, your healthy lifespan gets shorter, too.

LP: In other words, you’ll end up spending a larger portion of your life dealing with health issues and a lower quality of life?

PA: Right. This is debilitating to our society and to the economy.

LP: How’s the labor system holding up under COVID’s continuing influence?

PA: We have the stats about people leaving the labor market and not coming back. We see the massive decline in the number of teachers, the massive decline in the number of hospital and healthcare workers — all these people that were on the front line that have had the most infections.

LP: With COVID mitigation efforts dwindling, besides getting boosters and updated vaccines, what other personal protections can help us in our daily routines? What steps should we prioritize?

PA: The most important thing to know is that there are certain physical things that the virus can’t escape, no matter how it mutates. As long as you have an N95 mask, that’s great protection for you. Anytime you’re going into a crowded place when the prevalence is high, put on an N95 mask, and don’t compromise with a surgical mask or even a KN95 mask. The KN95 masks are the ones with the ear loops. They don’t hold against your face tightly enough to protect you as well. A KN95 mask is slightly better than a surgical mask with about 40% protection. But a good N95 mask, like the 3M Aura, gives you like 99.5% protection, so you can be in an airborne virus-laden environment much longer and not catch it. So that’s number one.

Number two is that fresh air is king. Wherever you are, open the windows. Open the doors. Advocate for improved air quality standards. The most important place to do this is the schools. I’ll give you a couple of interesting stats. Of the pandemic infections that drove the spread of COVID, I believe the statistics show that around 80% of transmissions occurred at what we term “super-spreader events.” This means that one highly infected person can enter a room, saturate the air with the virus, and infect a lot of people. That’s 80% of the transmission of the whole pandemic. Of that 80%, 70% of it happened in schools. Most of that was in schools that had poor ventilation. And it’s entirely fixable.

All we need are indoor air quality standards. The standards that we need are at least seven air exchanges per hour. You need to measure the CO2 in the room to make sure that for the number of people that are in it, that you have enough fresh air coming in. If your CO2 gets over 800 parts per million, you have too many people in the room and, or not enough ventilation.

LP: What’s the cost of a device for measuring CO2? Is there an easily affordable device?

PA: Absolutely. You can get a $50 device that shows the CO2 concentration in a room. Every classroom should have this, and every office, every workplace. There are a couple of other things they should be doing, too. They can augment it with filtration with MERV 13 filters. If you can’t do it in the building’s HVAC infrastructure, you can make portable ones for about $60 [See Corsi Rosenthal Boxes]. The other thing that is super important and super powerful, probably the best thing we could do, is what are called germicidal UV lamps. If you set those up in a room, it’s equivalent to about 24 air exchanges per hour. So they’re even better than ventilation and filtering.

I should point out that there are, in fact, places that have installed all of these: fresh air, filtering, and germicidal UV lights. Do you know where they are?

LP: Where?

PA: The White House, Congress, Number 10 Downing, Parliament, the Reichstag, and WHO. All of our leaders have these protections and procedures in place.

LP: But not our schoolchildren.

PA: Well, the school where [former CDC director] Rochelle Walensky’s children go, they have these upgrades.

LP: But your average public school, not so much, I’m assuming.

PA: No. Part of the problem was that while the schools were given the money to do these things, but because the WHO and the CDC were not open about the airborne nature of the virus, they spent it on things that didn’t help, like surface cleansing, plexiglass shields, and gloves instead of on air quality improvement.

LP: Let’s hope your message spreads about the affordability of protective measures and the consequences of not having them – for all of us. Thanks so much, Phillip.

**Stay tuned for Part 2 of this discussion.

Share your perspective