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Could a Japanese encephalitis shot cure a long covid patient?

Updated: Sep 11, 2023


I personally have no idea if vaccines could have a curative effect. In all honesty the possibility seems unlikely to me, and I’m not an expert (no one is in this area because it hasn’t been studied). But the story is fascinating. Let’s look at what happened:


Rachel’s story

Rachel Strohm, founder of Mawazo Institute, a non-profit supporting female early career researchers in Africa, fell ill with the COVID-19 virus in December of 2021. She received a positive nose swab covid test on 29 December 2021 (two days after taking the test). It was actually a mild case of covid so she isolated for 10 days then went back to work. She had received the J&J covid vaccine about 8 months prior. It should have been no big deal except she then developed “serious fatigue and brain fog that wouldn’t go away.” Long covid.

I could push through one normal work day, and then be too tired to stand up for a shower the next.

Prior to acquiring long covid, Rachel had been a hard worker and avid cyclist, rock climber and strength trainer. Long covid forced her to leave her job, leave her home in Kenya and return to her family in Chicago where she could receive adequate treatment for her condition.

Rachel Strohm

In April of 2022, Rachel decided to update her travel vaccines in the hopes that she would be able to recover and return to Africa and make a long-planned visit to India. She visited Passport Health and received one Japanese encephalitis shots, meningitis, Tdap and typhoid vaccines. Seven days later she returned for her second dose of Japanese encephalitis (it’s a 2-dose series in the U.S.).


Within hours of receiving her second dose, she noticed improvements in her energy levels. That day was the first day in nearly four months that Rachel didn’t require an afternoon nap. The next day she woke up “absolutely buzzing with energy.” For the next eight months (with exception of being down briefly with appendicitis) her energy level has been at about 90% of what it was pre-covid.


Is there any precedent for this kind of thing?

I think the idea here is that it was the immune boost from the second Japanese encephalitis shot that allowed Rachel to shake her long covid symptoms.

As a twitter user pointed out, there is a psychiatry professor who vaccinated himself again staphylococcus aureus 1x per month for 50 years to stave off chronic fatigue he acquired following a bout with the flu. An odd part of this story, though, is that as of 2021 there still isn’t a reliable effective Staphylococcus aureus vaccine. Watch the interview:


The professor believes the restorative effect of the vaccine related to the activation of antibodies in the immune system.


Ruling out alternative causes

Would a covid shot have cured long covid better? Rachel did get a Moderna covid booster one month after acquiring long covid and it didn’t seem to make any difference.

Could it have been one of the other shots and not Japanese encephalitis? Probably not because her improvement happened 7 days after getting all those other shots and on the day of improvement she got the Japanese encephalitis shot only.

Some have pointed out that it could be related to having her appendix removed. Rachel got appendicitis and had her appendix removed ten days after getting the JE shot and recovering from long covid. The timing makes this difficult but it seems possible.

You likely removed a source of a viral reservoir when you had your appendix out. High ACE2 concentration in bowel, appendix, gallbladder. Vaccines typically do not cure diseases. — Dr. Alice 💕 (@calirunnerdoc) January 18, 2023

Could it have been a coincidence that her recovery happened on the same day as the Japanese encephalitis shot? This seems most likely until more research is done. The human body is very complex so it’s hard to definitively connect an outcome to a specific treatment with a samples size of one.


Is it logical that the second shot would be the one to make a difference?

On the one hand, most of the Japanese encephalitis immunity is provided by the first shot (I coincidentally work at Away Clinic, a travel clinic that gives Japanese encephalitis shots, and just spoke with the Japanese encephalitis rep yesterday and had the whole run-down). The second shot only gives an incremental immunity boost so it’s difficult to see how this second shot would be life-changing when the first shot wasn’t but this is really unknown territory.

But on the other hand, despite only giving an incremental boost in immunity the immune response to the second shot may be larger. For example, I personally felt only slightly ill after the first covid shot but the second shot knocked me out for a week with heavy fatigue and mild flu-like symptoms. Because the covid shots are not live viruses that means it was my own body’s immune reaction that caused me to feel sick so there must have been a much larger immune response to the second shot. This is the general pattern people report: having a stronger immune response to the second covid shot. I would expect the second Japanese encephalitis shot would also elicit a larger immune response on the second shot since Ixiaro, the U.S. vaccine, is also not a live vaccine. What I’m getting at is that if it’s the immune response that shook Rachel out of long covid, then it might make sense that it was from the second shot where the immune response would be greater.

 

Photo credit: CDC

The author is Aaron Charlton, PhD, marketing lead for Away Clinic.

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