By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The COVID-19 mutation now spreading across the United States is more contagious than predecessors and appears to be causing more severe infections, according to new reports. Health officials are concerned about an even bigger surge following the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, and there’s new research out on the limitations of the vaccine.

The vaccines reduce hospitalizations and deaths, but the new research says they’re less effective at preventing infections and lingering symptoms.

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“I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that I will never be the same,” Sam Norpel, a long COVID patient, said.

Norpel, who lives in Blue Bell, says COVID-19 has stolen her life. She has lingering symptoms, known as long COVID.

“I started with severe migraine headaches that were so debilitating I couldn’t get out of bed,” Norpel said.

She had a breakthrough case after being fully vaccinated and boosted.

“Vaccination protects but only modestly people from having long COVID,” Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly said.

Al-Aly led a study of more than 13 million veterans that found the COVID vaccines only reduced the risk of getting long COVID by 15%, compared with unvaccinated patients.

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“Now that we know that COVID-19 can result in long-term consequences, even among the vaccinated, it’s upon us to develop additional tools, additional therapeutics that could protect people in the long run,” Al-Aly said.

He says vaccines and anti-viral treatments need to be improved to better guard against long COVID that’s estimated to now impact 23 million Americans.

“The larger worry here is that the increased risk of breakthrough infection is going to generate a wave of a large number of the population with chronic disease, potentially in some cases disabling disease for a long period of time,” Al-Aly said.

Long COVID can cause a variety of symptoms including fatigue and brain fog.

For Norpel, she’s worried about her family.

“I’m grieving, I’m grieving a life that I had,” Norpel said.

Norpel says doctors are trying to treat the symptoms and don’t know how long they’ll last.

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The study also found vaccination reduced the risk of death by 34% and that vaccines were most effective at preventing long COVID blood clotting disorders.

Stephanie Stahl