Trial By Error: Time’s Health100 List Includes Leaders in Long Covid and ME/CFS

By David Tuller, DrPH

*This is a crowdfunding month for Trial By Error. Donations (tax-deductible to US tax-payers) go to the University of Calinfornia, Berkeley, to support the project. The link to the crowdfunding campaign is here: https://crowdfund.berkeley.edu/project/42302

Last week, Time magazine unveiled a list called the TIME100 Health—a selection of “leaders from across industries—scientists, doctors, advocates, educators, and policy-makers, among others—dedicated to creating tangible, credible change for a healthier population.” Time also wrote this: “Together, they are a reminder that many things are going right, and their work is enough to inspire the belief that the world of health is in the middle of a golden age of accomplishment and transformation.” (I have to confess I don’t share Time’s sense of optimism–about the world of health, or the world at large–but let’s put that aside for now.)

The 100 honorees included two high-profile proponents of greater awareness of and funding for Long Covid, ME/CFS, and related conditions: Jaime Seltzer, scientific director at #MEAction and Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale Medical School. I interviewed each of them last year—Seltzer last December, and Iwasaki last September. (Time listed both Seltzer and Iwasaki in the “Leaders” category, although the distinction between that and some of the others—“Innovators,” “Pioneers,” “Catalysts”–seemed a bit arbitrary.)

Time describes Seltzer as a “postviral patient advocate”, noting that she developed ME/CFS in 2014 and has since deployed her scientific skills to effect change.  Here’s part of the entry about her:

“For years, U.S. medical schools barely taught their students about myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), a chronic condition that affects up to 2.5 million people in the U.S., which can develop after routine viral illnesses and causes debilitating exhaustion…Through #MEAction, Seltzer is helping to spearhead a major campaign to improve ME/CFS education, diagnosis, and treatment. Thanks to Seltzer’s efforts, staff at big-name institutions including Emory, Brown, and Georgetown are working with #MEAction to improve education programs and treatment plans related to ME/CFS.

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Akiko Iwasaki, the Yale immunologist who had already been named as one of Time’s 100 overall “most Influential people” in 2024, was cited for her work on “a better booster.” Here’s part of Time’s item:

“Building on their years of research on other viruses, Iwasaki and her colleagues are working on a new approach to COVID-19 vaccination: administering booster doses via the nose. The idea, Iwasaki says, is to help the body build up additional protection where it’s needed most, blanketing the nose—through which the virus often gets in—with its own defense system…That work dovetails with Iwasaki’s other focus: postinfectious illnesses like Long COVID, which she began researching during the pandemic and now studies as the director of Yale’s Center for Infection and Immunity. If nasal vaccines help fewer people get infected by the virus that causes COVID-19, she says, fewer people will develop Long COVID.”

Iwasaki assured Time that she would be sticking with her research into Long Covid. “’It’s not going to be solved overnight…but I’m committed to doing it,” she said, according to the magazine.

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Two others closely associated with the field of post-acute infection syndromes also made the list.

Ziyad Al-Aly, who is categorized as a “Pioneer” and credited by Time as “advocating with research,” testified earlier this year during the Long Covid hearings held by the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, helmed by Senator Bernie Sanders. Since the pandemic began, Al-Aly, a clinical epidemiologist at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has published prolifically.

Here’s Time: “He has published research detailing the numerous organ systems affected by Long COVID, the risks posed by multiple COVID-19 infections, and how Long COVID compares with chronic symptoms of viruses like the flu. Next, he says, he’ll focus his efforts on potential Long COVID treatments and determining whether SARS-CoV-2 is unique in its ability to cause chronic damage...All of these efforts are guided by Long COVID patients, Al-Aly says. ‘I feel connected at a visceral level,’ he says. ‘People are asking us [to do this work] and I feel a sense of responsibility.’ So will he ever go back to researching air pollution? ‘I identify as a Long COVID researcher now,’ Al-Aly says.”

Finally, Avindra Nath, clinical director of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is listed as an “Innovator” for his role in what Time calls “demystifying exhaustion.” That designation relates to his position as senior investigator of the National Institutes of Health’s long-awaited, in-depth study of 17 ME/CFS patients, whose main results were published earlier this year. The study has been criticized for its methodological choices, and the reception of the results has been underwhelming.

However, Nath retains a positive perspective, per Time‘s account: “The study’s findings will be instrumental in pushing forward research and treatment trials focused not only on ME/CFS but also on other postinfectious illnesses like Long COVID, which may share similar roots, Nath says. ‘It’s a great opportunity,’ he says. ‘If you can crack one of them, I think we can crack all of them.’”

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