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Science + Tech

People Follow COVID Rules When Their Friends Do. And More Science News

The latest roundup of pandemic findings gathered by Hakai Magazine.

Brian Owens 26 Jan 2021 | Hakai Magazine

Brian Owens is a freelance science writer and editor based in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. His work has appeared in Hakai Magazine, Nature, New Scientist, the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the Lancet.

Compiled by veteran medical journalist Brian Owens, this roundup of some of the newest science on the COVID-19 pandemic, straight from the scientific journals, is presented by Hakai Magazine in partnership with The Tyee.

People follow COVID rules when their friends do

The influence of people’s friends and immediate family has the biggest effect on their adherence to government restrictions to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The best predictor of people’s compliance with the rules was how much their close circle complied with the rules, and this social influence had an even stronger effect than people’s own approval of those rules.

The study surveyed people in more than 100 countries and found that the results were the same regardless of the severity of the pandemic locally and the strength of restrictions. The study also found that people who were particularly bonded to their country were more likely to stick to lockdown rules — treating their country like family.

British Journal of Psychology, Jan. 20, 2021

Coronavirus spike protein could evolve to evade vaccines

Two species of seasonal human coronaviruses, viruses related to SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, are known to have the ability to evolve to evade the immune system. These related coronaviruses have been infecting humans for decades and tend to cause milder illnesses like the common cold.

Researchers found a high rate of mutation in their spike proteins, particularly in one specific region called S1, which helps the virus enter cells. The finding suggests these coronaviruses can reinfect people as they evolve to escape the immune system. It is not yet clear if SARS-CoV-2 evolves in the same way, but if it does, current vaccines against the virus may become outdated, and new ones will need to be made to match future strains.

eLife, Jan. 19, 2021

Old antibodies help fight COVID-19

The immune systems of people infected with COVID-19 may rely on antibodies leftover from infections by previous coronaviruses. Researchers found that infections with SARS-CoV-2 could trigger the production of antibodies originally generated in response to past coronavirus infections, meaning that some people may have some degree of pre-existing immunity to the virus. This suggests that at least some of the variation in disease severity may be related to people’s history of infection with, and immune response to, other coronaviruses.

Cell Reports Medicine, Jan. 19, 2021

Vaccinating older people first will save the most lives

Vaccinating people over the age of 60 first is the most effective way to reduce deaths from COVID-19, according to a modelling study. Although vaccinating younger adults is projected to be more effective in reducing the number of infections, starting with older people will reduce mortality more. This is different from the optimal strategy for flu vaccines, which prioritizes vaccinating school-age children.

Science, Jan. 21, 2021

Serious allergic reactions to Pfizer vaccine are rare

Researchers with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration have examined reports of anaphylactic allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and determined that these serious reactions are rare — just 11.1 cases per million doses administered. Almost two million doses of the vaccine were administered in the U.S. between Dec. 14 and 23, and there were 21 reports of anaphylaxis. Four patients were hospitalized, but no deaths were reported. In the same time period, 83 cases of less serious non-anaphylactic reactions were reported.

Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 21, 2021

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People say they support government encroachment on privacy during pandemic

The majority of people in the United Kingdom say that the COVID-19 pandemic has made them willing to use privacy-encroaching tracking technology, and support the introduction of “immunity passports” to protect themselves and others.

The study found that in a 2,000-person survey asking about tracking apps, and a 1,500-person survey about immunity passports, more than two-thirds of respondents would accept some form of a smartphone tracking app to help manage social distancing and the relaxation of a full lockdown, and around 60 per cent were in favour of immunity passports.

These feelings are not reflected in the numbers of people downloading the U.K. government’s contact-tracing app, however, which is still millions below the target required for it to work effectively.

PLOS One, Jan. 22, 2021

Good contact tracing reduces death rates

Fast and effective contact tracing saves lives, according to a study of the association between contact tracing policies and mortality from COVID-19 in 138 countries. The study found that countries that implement comprehensive contact tracing have significantly lower case fatality rates than those with less effective tracing. The study also found that countries with a higher number of physicians, and countries that do more COVID-19 testing, also have lower case fatality rates.

Scientific Reports, Jan. 25, 2021

Twitter gave early warning of pandemic

Concerns about pneumonia posted on Twitter spiked in late 2019 and early 2020 in Europe, before the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. A geographic analysis of those tweets found that they came exactly from the regions where the first cases of COVID-19 were later reported, such as the Lombardy region in Italy, Madrid in Spain, and Île-de-France in France. The study adds to the evidence that social media can be a useful tool for epidemiological surveillance.

Scientific Reports, Jan. 25, 2021

Giving kids some autonomy helps mental health during lockdown

A study in Germany during the early phase of pandemic restrictions last year has found that autonomy-supportive parenting — offering children meaningful choices when possible — contributed to positive well-being and a good emotional climate for both children and parents. The researchers said that while this style of parenting requires more parental energy and vitality, it also contributes to making them happier and less stressed.

Child Development, Jan. 19, 2021  [Tyee]

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