Researchers in the UK have found that the protection offered by the Pfizer/Biotech and AstraZeneca vaccines begins to fall after six months. The researchers have linked this to the need for booster shots for those who already had two doses of the vaccine.
While major countries like the US, UK and also the EU are planning to administer booster shots, there has been some criticism and scepticism. Some researchers believed there was no evidence that booster shots were necessary. Some also believe it would be morally wrong to start giving people a third dose many people are unable to access the vaccines at all.
Face masks have become part of our new normal over the past year both indoors and outdoors. While they’re highly recommended inside heavily populated areas like supermarkets/grocery stores and public transport, there’s not much guidance when it comes to outside.
According to Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, the risk of catching COVID-19 outside is quite low.
“The risk of outside transmission is very low because viral particles disperse effectively in the outside air. A study in Wuhan, China, which involved careful contact tracing, discovered that just one of 7,324 infection events investigated was linked to outdoor transmission. In a recent analysis of over 232,000 infections in Ireland, only one case of COVID-19 in every thousand was traced to outdoor transmission. And a scoping review from the University of Canterbury concluded that outdoor transmission was rare, citing the opportunity costs of not encouraging the public to congregate outdoors. Overall, transmission is around 5000 times less likely to happen outside than inside.” (Posted April 27, 2021)
– Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH Infectious Diseases doctor and Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
… so, does that mean that we ditch our face masks and get some fresh air? With the vaccination programmes across the world coming along more efficiently and effectively we’re edging closer and closer to that point.
However, until it’s fully safe to do otherwise, we should all continue to maintain social distancing when around people who aren’t in our households, support bubbles or friendship groups.
The EMA safety committee held a meeting on 18th March and found that:
the benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects;
the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots in those who receive it;
there is no evidence of a problem related to specific batches of the vaccine or to particular manufacturing sites;
however, the vaccine may be associated with very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, i.e. low levels of blood platelets (elements in the blood that help it to clot) with or without bleeding, including rare cases of clots in the vessels draining blood from the brain (CVST).
Several countries across Europe have suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine due to safety concerns. There have been reports of blood clotting and deaths in people who have been administered the vaccine.
In comparison, there seems to be little trouble with the rollout of the vaccine in the UK with scientists there insisting that the jab is safe.
What happens next?
The European Medicines Agency is currently reviewing the issue, along with the Moderna and Pfizer-Biotech vaccines which have also been linked to blood clotting. The EMA executive director, Emer Cooke, said:
There is no indication vaccination has caused these [blood clotting] conditions.
However, like with any form of medicine, we will only find the answers through continuous testing.
Currently, WHO has stated that it is safe to continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine and indications are that the suspensions may not last, particularly in Europe where some countries are experiencing a third wave of infections.
16th March 2021:
WHO is investigating the reports and working closely with the European Medicines Agency.
As soon as review of the data is finalized, we’ll inform the public of any findings.
For the moment, the European Medicines Agency’s position is that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects.
WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) is meeting today to review the reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in persons who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Research does make it clear that social media is a larger source of misinformation and rumour than we typically get from traditional media. There isn’t anybody who is monitoring and vetting the information for its truthfulness or its veracity. So we need to step back. How are we using social media? Is it for connection, or is it for information gathering?
Purplexed Science: During the early stages of the pandemic, I admittedly relied heavily on Twitter updates. Not necessarily other people’s tweets, but the curated headlines and conversations Twitter itself would group together. The public’s willingness to be informed is directly linked to how the media has chosen to inform.
I found myself deleting several news notifications I’d set up because it was nothing but COVID-19, and I think that can do two things.
Dilute the information, or expose people to more misinformation. Human beings tend to rationalise what they cannot understand and this pandemic has been no different.
People are using social media for connection, but that also comes with information gathering. People feel a need to share what they’ve learnt with others. Often without stopping to fact check, after all, it’s easier to click a button than it is to input a search term into Google and spend half an hour reading up on a topic you may not necessarily understand.
One solution may be integrating a fact checking service within all social media platforms, or a service that allows people to quickly input information and returns them with a concise and clear explanation. Implementing such a service would be costly and time-consuming, so the buck stops with social media and news outlets. They should be held accountable for what is posted and do their due diligence before misinformation is allowed to spread.
On Saturday 19th December, millions of people were thrown into uncertainty when the UK government announced that Christmas was effectively cancelled. Plans to allow people to travel without restrictions for up to five days were scuppered by the emergence of a new variant of the virus.
Here’s what we know so far:
The variant is named VUI-202012/01.
It was detected by the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium
There have been more than 1000 cases so far
It’s been detected in at least 60 local authorities within the UK
It was first spotted in September but seems to be causing a rise of case across the UK now
According to Public Health England, the new variant is not necessarily more dangerous, although research is currently underway.
SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus and mutations are expected to occur as it replicates. Some variants with changes in the spike protein have already been observed as the virus is intensely sequenced here in the UK and around the world. There is no evidence that the newly-reported variant results in a more severe disease.
Professor Wendy Barclay, head of the department of infectious disease, Imperial College London.
In terms of the vaccine, the mutation that’s caused the new variant has been located in the spike protein — the area targeted by the vaccine. This means it should still be effective. However, more research is being done and we will know more in the coming weeks.
It is still going to be a very difficult winter. Distributing millions of vaccines will take months, so there will be a period where some people have natural immunity and others have vaccine immunity, while others remain vulnerable. Moreover, we don’t know how long vaccine immunity will last. While it would be great to get a vaccine on a Monday and celebrate your newfound immunity at a party on Tuesday, that’s not how it works. Those who are lucky to get a vaccine early in the process owe it to their communities to continue wearing masks and distancing until new cases and hospitalizations subside to near zero.”
—Dave O’Connor, PhD, University of Wisconsin Medical Foundation Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Eczema is a very common skin disorder affecting children and adults. It affects 20% of children in the UK at some point in life, and 1 in 10 adults suffer from atopic dermatitis. Eczema is characterised by dry, scaly skin and mild to severe itching. It can be made worse by Western culture, rising pollution, and increasing stress levels.
COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019), and is classified as a respiratory illness caused by virus strain SARS-COV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2), and as of yet, there is no vaccine. As of writing, there have been over 36 million reported cases and 1 million deaths globally (you can keep up to date with the current figures here).
Stress is a risk factor of eczema
COVID-19 has impacted our lifestyles. With people staying at home, our diet, health, fitness levels, mental state, and what we are exposed to in our environments daily have changed. For some people, stress levels have increased – due to changes in employment, worry over the virus, and uncertainty of the future – which is a risk factor of eczema.