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.
Contrast with flu vaccine helps overcome COVID-19 hesitancy
Highlighting how well the COVID-19 vaccines work helps to overcome vaccine hesitancy, especially when they are compared with other well-known vaccines. Researchers in the U.K. found that, among people who were unsure of whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine, confidence in the vaccines grew by 20 per cent when they were told that the vaccines were around 95 per cent effective. And that confidence grew by a similar margin again when the COVID-19 vaccines were compared to the flu shot, which has only been about 40 per cent effective over the past 15 years.
British Journal of Health Psychology, July 11, 2021
Vaccine hesitancy among young adults could prevent herd immunity
Vaccine skepticism among young adults may stall efforts to achieve herd immunity in the United States. A study found that about one in four unvaccinated people aged 18 to 25 said that they “probably will not” or “definitely will not” get the COVID-19 vaccination, which could make it more difficult to reach herd immunity in the country.
While young adults are less likely to die from COVID-19, they account for more than 20 per cent of all cases and are more likely than other age-groups to transmit the virus. Among those who said they would not get the vaccine, more than half said they were concerned about possible side effects. Half said they planned to wait and see if the vaccine was safe and may get it later.
Journal of Adolescent Health, July 14, 2021
Vaccine acceptance is higher in poorer countries
People in low- and middle-income countries are significantly more willing to accept COVID-19 vaccines than those in richer countries. A study found that vaccine acceptance rates in 10 poorer countries in Africa, Asia and South America were close to 80 per cent, compared with 64 per cent in the United States and just 30 per cent in Russia. The researchers say that prioritizing vaccine distribution to poorer countries could be the most effective way to increase global immunization coverage.
Nature Medicine, July 16, 2021
Precautions should stay until vaccination campaigns are complete
Relaxing public health measures like masking and physical distancing too early while vaccination campaigns are ongoing increases the risk of large, localized outbreaks of disease. A study that modelled COVID-19 transmission in Ontario found that reopening too early — before at least 75 per cent of the total population is fully vaccinated — would cause any benefits of vaccination to be lost by increasing case numbers.
Journal of the Royal Society Interface, July 14, 2021
Students did worse at virtual school
High school students who attended school remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic suffered socially, emotionally and academically compared with those who attended in person, a study of students in Florida has found. On a 100-point scale, in-person students were rated higher than remote students on levels of social well-being (77.2 versus 74.8), emotional well-being (57.4 versus 55.7) and academic well-being (78.4 versus 77.3). Though fairly small, this gap was consistent across gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, and was larger among students in Grades 10 to 12 than in Grade 9.
Educational Researcher, July 13, 2021
Women missed out on preventative care during pandemic
The pandemic disrupted important preventative health appointments for women, such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and sexually-transmitted infection screenings, as well as prescriptions for oral contraceptives and insertions of longer-acting devices. For all of 2020, adult women in Michigan were 20 to 30 per cent less likely to receive these services than they were in 2019. And they weren’t able to get back on schedule even after clinics reopened — there was no added increase in these services during the rest of the year to make up for lost time. Another study found that the delays and disruptions to breast cancer screening and treatment will likely result in almost 2,500 extra breast cancer deaths in the United States by 2030.
JAMA Health Forum, July 2, 2021
Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 14, 2021
Health effect of lockdown likely no worse than large viral outbreaks
Although lockdowns are associated with harms to both physical and mental health (see the previous two summaries), those harms are unlikely to be worse than the impact of the pandemic itself, at least in the short term. An international team of doctors examine the impacts of lockdowns on mortality, routine health services, global health programs, and suicide and mental health.
They found that it is extremely difficult to separate the potential impacts of lockdowns from those of the pandemic itself — missed doctor’s appointments could be the result of restrictions at clinics, or because people avoided clinics during the pandemic, for example.
But they did find that lockdowns are not associated with large numbers of excess deaths in countries such as Australia and New Zealand that avoided large COVID-19 epidemics, suggesting lockdowns themselves are not enough to cause surges in deaths. Places with few COVID-19 restrictions, however, such as Brazil, Sweden, Russia and parts of the United States, have had large numbers of excess deaths throughout the pandemic.
BMJ Global Health, July 19, 2021
SARS-CoV-2 is mutating in predictable ways
Researchers studying the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 as it mutates into new variants have found that those mutations are happening in essentially the same places, and in the same ways, as mutations seen in related viruses. The mutational similarities between SARS-CoV-2 and its predecessors, including the human-infecting SARS-CoV-1 and MERS-CoV, could help scientists predict how the COVID-causing virus will continue to evolve and lead to the development of more effective drugs and vaccines.
Journal of Virology, July 12, 2021
Chronic lung disease primes people for severe COVID-19
People who have chronic lung diseases are at higher risk of infection, more severe symptoms, and death from COVID-19 because of changes in the cells in their airways. Genetic and molecular changes in airway cells caused by diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, interstitial lung disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis make it easier for the virus to enter the cells, while changes to immune cells make it harder to fight off the disease and increase the chances of the out-of-control immune response that further damage the lungs.
Nature Communications, July 14, 2021
Hospitalized kids at risk of brain complications
Although children are at low risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19, around one in 20 of those who are hospitalized develop brain or nerve complications linked to the viral infection. A study in the U.K. has identified a wide spectrum of neurological complications in children and suggests they may be more common than in adults. Short-term outcomes were good in two-thirds of the children studies, although one-third had some degree of disability and one child died. The impacts on the developing brain and longer-term consequences are not yet known.
The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, July 14, 2021
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