United States Senator Tim M. Kaine (D-Va.) discussed his experience with prolonged health problems from Covid-19 and his work pushing for public health-related bills in the Senate in an online stream through the Harvard School of Public Health Tuesday.
Kaine spoke with Politico reporter Alice M. Ollstein about his work in the Senate spreading awareness of the effects of “long Covid,” the national decline in mental health, and the importance of public health data sharing. The virtual talk was part of HSPH’s series “Public Health on the Brink.”
After contracting Covid-19 in March 2020, Kaine — who currently serves on the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions — said he still experiences the effects of the disease.
“Every nerve ending in my body suddenly felt like it had five cups of coffee or was dipped in an Alka-Seltzer,” Kaine said. “This nerve tingling issue that I have has never gone away.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes “post-Covid conditions” — colloquially known as long Covid — as an umbrella term for any health complications that manifest upon contracting Covid-19 and remain for more than four weeks after infection with the virus.
Thirteen percent of patients reported having symptoms more than one month after infection, while 2.5 percent of patients self-reported that symptoms were still present more than three months after infection.
Kaine also said some of his other colleagues in Congress suffer from long Covid, but that his pushes for further research have not yet gained enough momentum to pass through the Senate.
Addressing a different long-term consequence of Covid-19, Kaine said the “mental health shocks” of the pandemic “reverberated everywhere,” adding that the impact on healthcare professionals was particularly profound.
“We got to get to the point where we can have discussions about mental health issues,” he said.
Looking ahead at solutions to these issues, Kaine said he believes the United States needs to improve sharing of health data between states and the federal government.
“We have information in a lot of places, but it’s often not shared,” Kaine said. “Our response to many issues is really hobbled by the fact that we don’t have good data sharing among the different levels of government.”
In March, Kaine introduced the Improving Data Accessibility Through Advancements in Public Health Act to standardize and improve the content of public health data and make data sharing processes more efficient.
“What we’re tending to find now is that we’re relying on studies coming out of the UK or Israel because they have nationwide, comprehensive healthcare systems where they can pull data and then share with us,” he said.
Kaine stated his support for the Affordable Care Act and recalled the day that Republicans attempted to repeal the ACA in August 2017 but fell short by one vote in the Senate as one of his most memorable moments as a senator.
“If 30 million people had lost their health insurance in August 2017, it would have been a hell of a lot worse,” he said.