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Science + Tech

It’s the ‘Danger Zone’ for Vaccine-Resistant COVID Strains. And More Science News

The latest pandemic findings gathered by The Tyee.

Brian Owens 3 Aug 2021 |

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.

Appointment reminders increase vaccine uptake

Text-based reminders that people are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine can boost appointment and vaccination rates, according to a new study. The researchers found that a reminder sent one day after someone became eligible increased appointment rates by six percentage points and vaccination rates by 3.6 percentage points compared with those who did not get reminders. Researchers also found that using language that makes people feel that the vaccine is already theirs — “claim your vaccine today” versus “the vaccine has been made available to you” — further increased appointment and vaccination rates.

Nature, August 2, 2021

Why kids might be more likely to have milder symptoms

Differences in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 between adults and children may explain why kids tend to get milder forms of COVID-19. Researchers found that infected children had lower T cell responses to the virus compared with infected adults, and lower levels of antibodies to other coronaviruses such as the virus responsible for the common cold. They suggest that a lack of prior immunity to coronaviruses and reduced T cell activation could lead to milder COVID-19 in children, but it is not yet clear why that might be the case.

Nature Communications, July 29, 2021

Precautions still needed to prevent resistant strains

With around 56 per cent of Canada’s total population fully vaccinated, we are in the danger zone for the emergence of resistant strains of the virus if other precautions are relaxed, according to a new computer model. The model suggests that a fast rate of vaccination decreases the probability that a resistant strain may emerge. But if precautions like mask-wearing, physical distancing and aggressive testing and tracing are relaxed after most people have been vaccinated, the probability of a resistant strain arising greatly increases — and resistant strains are most likely to emerge around the time when 60 per cent of the population has been vaccinated.

Scientific Reports, July 30, 2021

Monkey study helps determine how much protection antibodies from vaccines provide

One of the challenges of creating vaccines is determining what amount of antibodies is needed to provide protection against the virus. A new study using different doses of the Moderna vaccine in monkeys is helping to clear this up by linking specific levels of antibodies to how well protected the monkeys were. The researchers found that lower levels of antibodies were required to protect against infections deep in the lungs, compared to the upper airway, which may help explain why the vaccines are so good at preventing severe illness and death, but still allow some mild infections.

Science, July 29, 2021

No rise in stillbirth or preterm birth during pandemic

Though there have been some concerns about the potential effect of the pandemic on pregnancy and birth, a large study in Ontario found no overall increases in preterm births or stillbirths during the first year of the pandemic. Researchers analyzed 2.4 million births in Ontario from 2002 to 2021 and found no unusual changes during the pandemic — though the risks might have been higher for some people in some areas, that was offset by lower risks elsewhere. Some smaller previous studies in other countries had reported rises in stillbirth and variations in preterm birth rates.

Canadian Medical Association Journal, August 3, 2021

Pandemic screen time may be responsible for rise of short-sightedness in kids

A rise in cases of short-sightedness among children in Hong Kong may be linked to a significant decrease in the time they have been able to spend outdoors and a sharp rise in screen time during the pandemic. A previous study found that 13 per cent of children developed the condition over a period of one year, compared with 19.5 per cent of the COVID-19 group in the current study over a shorter period of eight months. These changes coincided with a reduction in the time the children spent outdoors, from around an hour and 15 minutes to around 24 minutes per day, and an increase in screen time, from around 2.5 hours to around seven hours per day.

British Journal of Ophthalmology, August 2, 2021

Mental health disorders increase risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19

Mental health disorders are associated with increased COVID-19–related mortality, according to a review of 16 studies from seven different countries. The highest risk appears to be for people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. The researchers say that patients with mental health disorders should be targeted as a high-risk population for severe forms of COVID-19 and offered enhanced preventive and disease management strategies.

JAMA Psychiatry, July 27, 2021


One weird trick to improve mental resilience during pandemic

A simple method to help people think differently about their situation, known as “reappraisal,” significantly improved their emotional response to the stresses of the pandemic, according to a study involving people from 87 different countries.

The researchers tested two methods of reappraisal intervention: reconstrual and repurposing. Reconstrual involves changing how a person construes or mentally represents a situation in order to change their emotional response, while repurposing calls for focusing on a potentially positive outcome, such as thinking that the pandemic helps us recognize who are the most important people in our lives. Both methods consistently reduced negative emotions and increased positive emotions among the study’s participants.

Nature Human Behaviour, August 2, 2021

Institutional transparency and trust are key to addressing health-care workers' concerns

Canadian health-care workers were worried about their access to PPE, risk of infection and growing burnout and fatigue during the pandemic. Health-care workers felt these concerns could be better addressed through improved transparency and communication by their institutional leaders rather than through individual wellness programs, according to an analysis of worker concerns at University Health Network in Toronto. The study found that distress related to the lack of transparency and trust may have contributed to burnout during the pandemic and made people less likely to make use of the mental health supports that were offered.

JAMA Network Open, July 27, 2021  [Tyee]

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