COVID-19 – the longer-term health burden

From the start of the pandemic, the efficient deployment and use of medical products – from masks, disinfectants and test kits – has varied across markets. The rapid development of vaccines has impressed, but the success of rollout programmes is dependent on many different factors, including virus mutations, potential lack of vaccine efficacy to those variants, and public hesitancy to universal vaccination. There are also unknowns around the potential severity of long-term health effects of COVID-19 infection.

During the pandemic, across countries routine screenings, planned surgeries and treatments have often been postponed in order to prevent health services from collapsing. As a result, many patients have not received the care they need at the right point in time. This could lead to a decline in overall health status. At the same time, surveys show the incidence of mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression have increased during the pandemic. This is in addition to less healthy lifestyles, such as less physical activity and increased alcohol and /or drug consumption.

Long-term effects such as reduced life expectancy, particularly for at-risk population groups, is a very real possibility. Such effects may correlate with physiological characteristics like age or sex, but they may also correspond with economic and social status. Data from the US suggests a higher incidence of COVID-19 infection among lower-income groups. The reasons offered range from more crowded living
spaces and, in the case of “essential workers”, a necessity for physical workplace attendance. The virus may also hit lower-income groups harder, for instance due to less access to healthcare. This would further exacerbate income and health-status inequalities, with associated implications for trends in insurance demand.

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