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Long Covid is a ‘national crisis.’ So why are grants taking so long to get?

David Putrino, a neurophysiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, labored through his holiday last Christmas to write a grant application for urgently needed Long Covid research. With colleagues, he hoped to tap into $1.15 billion in funding that Congress granted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2020, as Long Covid emerged as a major public health problem. NIH had solicited grant applications in December 2021, just weeks before their January due date. The agency said it planned to issue decisions by late March.

But as of today, Putrino was still waiting to hear whether NIH will fund his effort to discover whether microclots might be a meaningful diagnostic biomarker for many types of Long Covid. “Maybe they should hire people who are dedicated to accelerating these programs,” says Putrino, who specializes in rehabilitation medicine. “[Long Covid] is a national crisis. This does not deserve to be somebody’s second or third job. What we need from the NIH right now is their full attention.”

Putrino’s is not the lone complaint about NIH’s management of Long Covid research—an initiative dubbed RECOVER, for Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery. RECOVER’s flagship, an observational study of up to 40,000 people, has come under fire from patient advocates and some scientists who say it lacks transparency and is moving far too slowly—a ponderous battleship when a fleet of hydroplanes are what’s needed. As of 6 June, the study had signed up 3712 adults, or 21% of its adult enrollment target of 17,680. Among children, numbers are even lower: Ninety-eight children are participants in a study aiming to enroll 19,500 of them.

Critics note that other countries have been more nimble. By July 2021, the United Kingdom had funded 15 Long Covid research projects aimed at diagnosis and treatment. In contrast, a recent independent review published by the Rockefeller Foundation found that, as of February, NIH had funded just eight of 200 Long Covid trials listed in the U.S. ClinicalTrials.gov database.

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