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Importance of population-based longitudinal studies to understanding the impact of COVID-19
  1. Panayotes Demakakos
  1. Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Panayotes Demakakos, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, WC1E 6BT, UK; p.demakakos{at}

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High-quality population-based surveillance studies such as the COVID-19 Infection Survey and Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission Study primarily serve the purpose of generating timely and accurate estimates of the COVID-19 infection and transmission rates. However, describing the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic is a different objective from understanding its multidimensional impact on people’s lives and describing the post-COVID-19 trajectories of the population. Surveillance studies can neither be used to study the COVID-19 period effect within life course and ageing perspectives nor be informative about a multitude of COVID-19 related impacts and implications beyond the short-term health impact.

Against this backdrop, multidisciplinary population-based longitudinal studies can substantially add to our knowledge of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact. In the UK, many population-based longitudinal studies have only recently incorporated serological tests and this impedes their ability to provide accurate estimates of COVID-19 status over the entire pandemic period. However, there are important dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic that population-based longitudinal studies are well placed to study. Below I discuss some of these dimensions.

The dimension of time

The COVID-19 pandemic has short-term, medium-term and long-term implications. To fully understand them, one needs rich data that cover the COVID-19 period. They also need an appropriate pre-COVID-19 comparison basis, that is, data about how the population was doing before COVID-19. In the UK, several high-quality population-based longitudinal studies offer such data. For example, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) has collected rich individual-level health, behavioural and social data from a representative sample aged ≥50 years over a period of 20 years, from 2002 to today. These data can be used to study the effect of …

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  • Contributors I am the sole author of this work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests PD works with a population-based longitudinal study, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.