Pfizer's latest 'Dear Scientist' video stars a long COVID patient looking for answers

As COVID-19 moves into an endemic phase, though rates of coronavirus infections and hospitalizations continue to fall, cases of long COVID appear to be slowly ticking upward. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the segment of American adults who have experienced long COVID is now hovering around 17.4%, up from a tally closer to 15% in surveys taken throughout last year.

To date, there are no FDA-approved treatments for long COVID, and researchers are still working to better understand the disease—especially since it can present with any of more than 200 symptoms—both of which are key plot points in the latest installment of Pfizer’s long-running “Dear Scientist” series.

Each entry in the content campaign, a collaboration with Studio/B at Boston Globe Media, centers on an individual who’s written a letter to scientists asking for more information about a specific disease and what researchers are doing to help. The newest episode spotlights Tammy Wilshire, who was first infected with COVID in March 2020 and has been experiencing additional symptoms ever since.

In her letter, she details those symptoms—including “crippling fatigue, odd sensations in my arms and legs, an unusually high heart rate upon standing, fluctuating blood pressure, severe brain fog and memory loss, horrible migraines, nausea and vomiting, severe hair loss, visual disturbances, low blood sugar, and tremors”—and asks what scientists are doing “to address this mass disabling event” for current and future long COVID patients.

Wilshire recounted her story in an accompanying video, which Pfizer shared on its social media pages this week. The Big Pharma also brought her in for a face-to-face conversation with Jennifer Hammond, Ph.D., its head of antiviral development, who is currently leading Pfizer’s development program for the treatment of COVID. According to an account of their meeting, during which Wilshire read her letter directly to Hammond, the scientist shared that her team is still digging into the causes of long COVID so they can figure out the best way to treat it, including by partnering with academic medical centers, long COVID clinics and other organizations to look into potential treatments.

When Hammond asked what her team should know about long COVID, Wilshire said, “If there’s one thing that I would like to communicate, I think it would be that we are alive, we survived the infection, but we’re not living. … We are so hopeful that somebody will come along and help us get back to a normal life.”

In a statement sent to Fierce Pharma Marketing, a spokesperson for Pfizer said, “We believe COVID-19 will be with us for some time, if not indefinitely. As we’ve established, we intend to provide significant medical contributions across the COVID-19 disease spectrum, from prevention with vaccines to therapeutics that help patients avoid or address severe outcomes of disease.”

“Though we do not currently have any Pfizer-sponsored long COVID studies underway, we are continuing to review data from our clinical studies and real-world evidence,” the statement continued. “Scientific understanding of long COVID is both nascent and rapidly evolving. We are collaborating on multiple investigator-sponsored studies to evaluate PAXLOVID for potential use in patients with long COVID. By investing in this collaborative approach, we aim to help accelerate and streamline research efforts that can advance our collective knowledge about long COVID.”

Pfizer’s long COVID feature comes shortly after Moderna—its competitor in the initial COVID-19 vaccine race—began a long-COVID-focused campaign of its own. While Moderna’s campaign also shares the story of one patient’s debilitating journey with long COVID, it differs from Pfizer’s focus on highlighting the scientific work behind potential treatments to instead push for building a strong defense against the disease.

“The only way to prevent long COVID is to not get COVID,” Moderna’s video reminds viewers, before providing a link to the national COVID vaccine-finder website rather than specifically pushing the company’s own Spikevax vaccine.

Editor's note: This story was edited with the updated name of Studio/B, formerly known as BG Brand Lab.