Almost 60% of frontline health and social care workers (HSCWs) experienced a mental health disorder during the first COVID-19 lockdown, with many suffering “very high rates of distress”, suggests a new study led by researchers at UCL and the University of Haifa, Israel.
Given the significantly high levels of mental health disorders across all HSCWs, the researchers (part of the UCL-led COVID Trauma Response Working Group*), are now calling for long-term planning to meet the needs of staff from across health and social care, including specialist trauma services to be set up for healthcare workers, similar to the specialist commissioned NHS psychological trauma services for military veterans.
The ‘Frontline-COVID study’, published in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology, surveyed 1,194 HSCWs, who worked in UK hospitals, nursing or care homes and other community settings, to identify and compare the rates of mental health disorder across different job roles and places of work.
The study, carried out just after the first wave of COVID in the UK between 27 May and 23 July, 2020, found that 58% of HSCWs met the threshold for any mental health disorder; 22% met criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 47% had clinically significant anxiety and 47% had depression. Symptom levels were high across all job roles and settings.
Importantly, the study found that it was not just doctors and nurses who were experiencing clinically significant distress, but all staff from across health and care.
Furthermore, the research also identified some specific mental health risk factors, principally: concern about infecting others with COVID; being unable to talk with their managers about how they were coping; feeling stigmatised (about their role); and not having had reliable access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Key predictors for PTSD included staff being redeployed to other teams and having had COVID themselves.
The research was conducted by the COVID Trauma Response Working Group, formed by UCL psychiatrists and psychologists, who are calling for immediate additional mental health support for HSCWs. This is the first UK study to assess mental health disorders across all health and social care settings during COVID-19.
Lead author, Dr Talya Greene (UCL Psychiatry and University of Haifa), said: “Our study shows that more than half of health and social care staff surveyed met criteria for a mental disorder following the first wave of COVID-19 in the UK. Importantly, we found that rates of distress were high, not only among doctors and nurses, but across a wide range of health and social care roles, such as allied health professionals, ambulance workers, hospital porters, pharmacists, and care home staff.
“Let’s be clear: we may be on the verge of a mental health crisis across the health and social care sector. So we need to make sure that specialist help is offered and accessible across all the different roles and settings.
“It is important that this support (for those that need it) is planned for the long-term. Our findings highlight the urgency for immediate long-term funding for specialist mental health services for health and social care workers.”
Co-author, Dr Jo Billings (UCL Psychiatry), said: “A really important finding from our study is that it showed that, in addition to doctors and nurses, all staff across the health and social care sector need to be offered help. This study also highlights the need for reliable access to PPE for all staff working in health and social care roles, and further investigation of barriers to communication between managers and staff. Our findings also highlight that staff redeployed into new frontline roles are at particular risk of being traumatised and are likely to require additional support during redeployment.”
Scientists say they still have more to learn about the symptoms of Covid-19 infections, long Covid, and the new variants.
It’s been more than a year since Covid-19 landed in the United States. And the once-perplexing array of symptoms like coughing, fever, shortness of breath, and loss of taste and smell are now very familiar to doctors around the country.
The range of possibilities when someone shows up to a doctor’s office with new respiratory symptoms “is very, very narrow these days,” said Anish Mehta, medical director for clinical quality and virtual health at Eden Health, and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “It’s probably Covid if you have fever and you’re coughing, or if you have a fever and feel muscles aches.”
Medical researchers have also learned more about how a Covid-19 infection can ripple through the circulatory, nervous, and immune systems with symptoms like rashes, blood clots, strokes, and even foot lesions dubbed “Covid toes.” They’re also more familiar with the more than 10 percent of Covid-19 survivors who are reporting long-term symptoms, including difficulty thinking and focusing, heart palpitations, hair loss, and mood swings.
Yet even now researchers are finding new symptoms. Tim Spector, a professor of molecular epidemiology at King’s College London, has been studying Covid-19 throughout the pandemic through a Covid-19 Symptom Study smartphone app. He recently started receiving reports of mouth ulcers and something he calls Covid tongue — a fuzzy yellow-white coating on the tongue.
“It came about because people sent me images of their tongue,” said Spector. “I posted them and then people started … realizing that’s what they had originally when they had Covid. It’s a strange phenomenon that no doctor thought was related.”
Though cases and hospitalizations are falling, and multiple Covid-19 vaccines are rolling out, the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is still spreading, and new variants are threatening to undo some of the progress made during the pandemic. The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to acquire new mutations. Changes in symptoms could be a warning sign of these changes to the virus. So doctors have to remain on their toes.
“I think the lesson is unusual symptoms can come out of the blue with no clear explanation,” said Andrew Chan, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who collaborated with Spector on the symptom study app. “It has to be on every health care provider’s mind.”
The list of Covid-19 symptoms is still getting longer
The fact that Covid-19 has spread so widely, with 115 million cases worldwide to date, means the disease has had opportunities to affect people under a variety of circumstances including preexisiting health conditions, age, nutrition, living standards, and access to health care. How Covid-19 interacts with these variables is part of why there are so many different symptoms.
As the fight against COVID-19 continues, scientists have turned to an unlikely source for a potentially effective treatment: tiny antibodies naturally generated by llamas.
While the world has welcomed the news of multiple vaccines against COVID-19, the search for effective treatments for those who contract the virus is ongoing. Now scientists are looking to what might seem to be an unlikely source: the South American llama.
Researchers are using the ultrabright X-rays of the Advanced Photon Source (APS), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, to help turn naturally generated llama antibodies into potentially effective therapies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are the immune system’s natural defense against infection, and when extracted from blood, they can be used to design treatments and vaccines.
“Llamas generate these nanobodies naturally in high yields, and they fit into the pockets on the surface of proteins that larger-size antibodies can’t access.” — Jason McLellan, The University of Texas at Austin.
“We have received more than 50 llama antibodies with several proteins of SARS-CoV-2,” said Andrzej Joachimiak, director of the Structural Biology Center (SBC) at the APS and co-director of the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases. (Researchers at the APS do not work with the live virus, but with crystals grown from simulated proteins.) These antibodies are part of ongoing collaborations with several partners, including researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), Joachimiak said, and will be analyzed using the APS to see if they combat the virus’s infectivity.
While it may seem surprising that scientists are turning to llamas, there’s a very good reason for it.
Llamas belong to a group of mammals called camelids, a group that also includes camels and alpacas. Thanks to a quirk of nature, camelids produce a unique type of antibody against disease. These antibodies, often referred to as nanobodies, are about half the size of the antibodies produced by humans. They’re also remarkably stable and easy for scientists to manipulate.
This genetic quirk, which causes camelids such as llamas to produce these smaller antibodies with single protein chains, was discovered by accident in the late 1980s by scientists in Belgium. Since then, scientists have worked with camelid nanobodies to create treatments against several diseases with great success. Their small size allows them to bind to areas of viral proteins that larger antibodies cannot fit into, blocking those proteins from connecting with cells.
“Llamas generate these nanobodies naturally in high yields, and they fit into the pockets on the surface of proteins that larger-size antibodies can’t access,” said Jason McLellan, an associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin.
McLellan has years of experience working with camelid nanobodies. He and his graduate student Daniel Wrapp, along with Xavier Saelens’ group in Belgium, have isolated nanobodies that have proven effective against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and two coronaviruses: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
When the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was released in January of 2020, McLellan, Wrapp and Saelens worked quickly to test whether any of the antibodies that they had previously isolated against the original SARS-CoV (taken from a Belgian llama named Winter) could also bind and neutralize SARS-CoV-2. They discovered that one of these nanobodies, which they had characterized using the SBC beamlines at the APS, might be effective against SARS-CoV-2. McLellan said this nanobody — called VHH72 — is now under development as a treatment for COVID-19. He and Wrapp received a 2020 Golden Goose Award for this research.
While some of the behaviors that lead to SARS-CoV-2 infections are clear, new waves of COVID-19 cases do not always follow predicted patterns.
Now, however, a study from researchers at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences describes a possible means of spotting infection surges before they happen through the analysis of online searches.
The researchers discovered a correlation between a surge in searches relating to activities outside the home — activities that could put people at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection — and a rise in COVID-19 cases 10–14 days afterward. Infections fell when there was an increase in searches relating to stay-at-home activities.
Study author Anasse Bari, a clinical assistant professor at the Courant Institute, notes that experts have already successfully used data mining “in finance to generate data-driven investments, such as studying satellite images of cars in parking lots to predict businesses’ earnings.”
“Our research shows the same techniques could be applied to combatting a pandemic by spotting, ahead of time, where outbreaks are likely to occur,” says senior author Megan Coffee of the Division of Infectious Disease & Immunology at the New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine.
Identifying with greater precision those behaviors that produce infection spikes can help epidemiologists and policymakers more effectively shape public policies regarding closures, lockdowns, and so on.
The system that the study paper describes avoids privacy issues by involving only large clusters of anonymized data.
The study appears in Social Network Analysis and Mining.
The researchers’ first step was to develop categories based on search phrases or keywords that they could then track.
The two key categories that they tracked were called the mobility index and the isolation index.
The team assigned certain searches to the mobility index track, including “theaters near me,” “flight tickets,” and other inquiries about activities that involve leaving the home and being in physical proximity with others.
As Bari puts it, “When someone searches the closing time of a local bar or looks up directions to a local gym, they give some insight into what future risks they may have.”
For the isolation index track, the researchers collected search queries — such as “at-home yoga” or “food delivery” — that indicated an intention to remain home and isolated.
The researchers based their categorization of keywords on the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape survey — a study in which respondents listed the things that they would be doing if “restrictions were lifted on the advice of public health officials regarding activities.”
The survey found that the top three activities that people missed were “going to a stadium/concert,” “going to the movies,” and “attending a sports event.”
According to Bari, “This is a first step toward building a tool that can help predict COVID-19 case surges by capturing higher risk activities and intended mobility, which searches for gyms and in-person dining can illuminate.”
The researchers collected search data for March through June in 2020 from all 50 states in the United States. They used Google Trends to track trends in the data, allowing them to develop the mobility and isolation indexes.
The researchers also created a “Net Movement Index” to indicate the relationship between the two indexes. A higher Net Movement indicated a shift toward mobility search queries and away from isolation searches.
The authors write, “We theoretically expect that a sudden decline in net movement (i.e., more people staying home) would correspond to a reduction in COVID-19 spread, with a lag equivalent to the incubation period of COVID-19.”
In 42 of the 50 states, each rise in Net Movement accurately predicted an increase in COVID-19 infections 10–14 days later.
The authors of the study explored the relationship between the mobility index and infection rates following the removal of stay-at-home orders in five states: Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas.
Following the implementation of each lockdown, the mobility index had significantly decreased, mirrored closely by a reduction in infections. However, the easing of stay-at-home orders in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas preceded a sharp increase in the mobility-type searches, followed shortly by a spike in the number of reported infections in June 2020.
We can learn from our failures.
When the polio vaccine was declared safe and effective, the news was met with jubilant celebration. Church bells rang across the nation, and factories blew their whistles. “Polio routed!” newspaper headlines exclaimed. “An historic victory,” “monumental,” “sensational,” newscasters declared. People erupted with joy across the United States. Some danced in the streets; others wept. Kids were sent home from school to celebrate.
One might have expected the initial approval of the coronavirus vaccines to spark similar jubilation—especially after a brutal pandemic year. But that didn’t happen. Instead, the steady drumbeat of good news about the vaccines has been met with a chorus of relentless pessimism.
The problem is not that the good news isn’t being reported, or that we should throw caution to the wind just yet. It’s that neither the reporting nor the public-health messaging has reflected the truly amazing reality of these vaccines. There is nothing wrong with realism and caution, but effective communication requires a sense of proportion—distinguishing between due alarm and alarmism; warranted, measured caution and doombait; worst-case scenarios and claims of impending catastrophe. We need to be able to celebrate profoundly positive news while noting the work that still lies ahead. However, instead of balanced optimism since the launch of the vaccines, the public has been offered a lot of misguided fretting over new virus variants, subjected to misleading debates about the inferiority of certain vaccines, and presented with long lists of things vaccinated people still cannot do, while media outlets wonder whether the pandemic will ever end.
This pessimism is sapping people of energy to get through the winter, and the rest of this pandemic. Anti-vaccination groups and those opposing the current public-health measures have been vigorously amplifying the pessimistic messages—especially the idea that getting vaccinated doesn’t mean being able to do more—telling their audiences that there is no point in compliance, or in eventual vaccination, because it will not lead to any positive changes. They are using the moment and the messaging to deepen mistrust of public-health authorities, accusing them of moving the goalposts and implying that we’re being conned. Either the vaccines aren’t as good as claimed, they suggest, or the real goal of pandemic-safety measures is to control the public, not the virus.
Five key fallacies and pitfalls have affected public-health messaging, as well as media coverage, and have played an outsize role in derailing an effective pandemic response. These problems were deepened by the ways that we—the public—developed to cope with a dreadful situation under great uncertainty. And now, even as vaccines offer brilliant hope, and even though, at least in the United States, we no longer have to deal with the problem of a misinformer in chief, some officials and media outlets are repeating many of the same mistakes in handling the vaccine rollout.
The pandemic has given us an unwelcome societal stress test, revealing the cracks and weaknesses in our institutions and our systems. Some of these are common to many contemporary problems, including political dysfunction and the way our public sphere operates. Others are more particular, though not exclusive, to the current challenge—including a gap between how academic research operates and how the public understands that research, and the ways in which the psychology of coping with the pandemic have distorted our response to it.
Recognizing all these dynamics is important, not only for seeing us through this pandemic—yes, it is going to end—but also to understand how our society functions, and how it fails. We need to start shoring up our defenses, not just against future pandemics but against all the myriad challenges we face—political, environmental, societal, and technological. None of these problems is impossible to remedy, but first we have to acknowledge them and start working to fix them—and we’re running out of time.
The effort to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 relies on the syringe and needle, using a 19th-century technology to get 21st-century science into the arms of billions. Now the race is on to find alternatives.
Executives such as David Hipkiss sense an opportunity. His firm, Enesi Pharma Ltd. of Oxfordshire, England, is developing a device that painlessly implants a vaccine-imbued tube of sugars smaller than a grain of rice under the skin.
The pandemic has sparked a research-and-development gold rush in vaccines. Developers of novel vaccine-delivery technology hope that they are next, and that the drive to inoculate the planet will shower them with investment dollars and entice big-name partners with deep pockets who can help bring their products to market.
Theirs is a field littered with development misfires and costly gadgets that, for decades, failed to unseat the simple needle, syringe and glass vial. Aside from the occasional nasal spray for flu or sugar lump for polio, the hypodermic needle has been the mainstay of protecting against infectious disease since it was pioneered by a Dublin physician in 1844.
Skeptics say that because needles are so inexpensive, abundant and effective, that isn’t likely to change. But the belief among delivery-technology executives and others in the vaccine world is that the pandemic has revealed to all what they have long seen as a false economy. Vaccinating millions isn’t a cheap and easy task when the existing technology requires freezing cold-chain logistics, an army of trained personnel to inject needles, long lines, wasted doses and billions of dollars.
“We’ve got to find a better solution,” said Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who until December led the U.K. government’s vaccine procurement and deployment program. “Ultimately, we need to be in a position whereby as and when a nasty virus comes along the whole world can get vaccinated.”
Technologies in development for delivering vaccines include Enesi’s dissolving implants, microneedle patches, electrical-pulse systems, nasal sprays and even pills. Some firms are developing their own vaccines against Covid-19, while others are aiming to reformulate some of the dozens already in development or being rolled out world-wide. Some are sitting this pandemic out in the hope of being ready for the next one.
Amid a race to vaccinate as many people as possible against the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 28 million people and killed about 500,000 in the United States, the 10-year-old son of a Washington Post reader posed a pertinent question — one even experts are struggling to answer with any real certainty.
Is it possible for the United States to achieve herd immunity without vaccinating children?
It’s a complicated question, as health experts have differing ideas about what constitutes a herd immunity threshold for the coronavirus. Add to that the challenges with virus mutations, vaccine hesitancy and, of course, the current inability to vaccinate children and the answer becomes even murkier.
It makes herd immunity a challenging target to hit even assuming both adults and children took the vaccine. Without vaccinating children, it makes it that much more difficult. But failure to reach that threshold does not mean failure to control the disease.
What is herd immunity?
Herd immunity occurs when a large number of people in the community have developed immunity either by getting infected or by being vaccinated, so they are less likely to spread infection.
The herd immunity threshold refers to the level of herd immunity needed so that when people return to their normal pre-covid lives, transmission of the virus cannot be sustained. That does not mean that the virus will completely disappear, but it will spread only among certain individuals rather than among the community at large, preventing new outbreaks, saidMarc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
For the coronavirus, the herd immunity threshold is thought to be between 70 and 90 percent of the population.
It is possible to reach herd immunity without vaccinating kids?
No one really knows.
Assuming almost all adults got vaccinated, it could be possible to curb the spread of infection among the adult population.
However, children would continue to pass on the virus to their peers “until community rates are low enough that children are no longer getting infected,” said Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University. “Then what we might see are occasional sporadic outbreaks among children who are connected by transmission routes.”
As it stands, about half of unvaccinated adults surveyed in the United States said they “definitely” intend to take the vaccine, but 14 percent said they would “probably not” and 10 percent gave a resounding no, according to census data released late last month.
If children — who account for about 22 percent of the U.S. population — also were not vaccinated, herd immunity would be even further out of reach. However, hitting the threshold is not a pass-fail mission. Some experts believe that the threshold is more of a spectrum, and the closer the population can get to it, the better the chances of stopping the spread of the disease.
Global greenhouse gas emissions over the last century have made southern China a hotspot for bat-borne coronaviruses, by driving growth of forest habitat favoured by bats.
A new study published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment provides the first evidence of a mechanism by which climate change could have played a direct role in the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study has revealed large-scale changes in the type of vegetation in the southern Chinese Yunnan province, and adjacent regions in Myanmar and Laos, over the last century. Climatic changes including increases in temperature, sunlight, and atmospheric carbon dioxide — which affect the growth of plants and trees — have changed natural habitats from tropical shrubland to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland. This created a suitable environment for many bat species that predominantly live in forests.
The number of coronaviruses in an area is closely linked to the number of different bat species present. The study found that an additional 40 bat species have moved into the southern Chinese Yunnan province in the past century, harbouring around 100 more types of bat-borne coronavirus. This ‘global hotspot’ is the region where genetic data suggests SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen.
“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Dr Robert Beyer, a researcher in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and first author of the study, who has recently taken up a European research fellowship at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany.
He added: “Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
To get their results, the researchers created a map of the world’s vegetation as it was a century ago, using records of temperature, precipitation, and cloud cover. Then they used information on the vegetation requirements of the world’s bat species to work out the global distribution of each species in the early 1900s. Comparing this to current distributions allowed them to see how bat ‘species richness’, the number of different species, has changed across the globe over the last century due to climate change.
“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others — taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” said Beyer.
The world’s bat population carries around 3,000 different types of coronavirus, with each bat species harbouring an average of 2.7 coronaviruses — most without showing symptoms. An increase in the number of bat species in a particular region, driven by climate change, may increase the likelihood that a coronavirus harmful to humans is present, transmitted, or evolves there.
Most coronaviruses carried by bats cannot jump into humans. But several coronaviruses known to infect humans are very likely to have originated in bats, including three that can cause human fatalities: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) CoV, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) CoV-1 and CoV-2.
The region identified by the study as a hotspot for a climate-driven increase in bat species richness is also home to pangolins, which are suggested to have acted as intermediate hosts to SARS-CoV-2. The virus is likely to have jumped from bats to these animals, which were then sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan — where the initial human outbreak occurred.
The researchers echo calls from previous studies that urge policy-makers to acknowledge the role of climate change in outbreaks of viral diseases, and to address climate change as part of COVID-19 economic recovery programmes.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous social and economic damage. Governments must seize the opportunity to reduce health risks from infectious diseases by taking decisive action to mitigate climate change,” said Professor Andrea Manica in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, who was involved in the study.
“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” added Professor Camilo Mora at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, who initiated the project.
The researchers emphasised the need to limit the expansion of urban areas, farmland, and hunting grounds into natural habitat to reduce contact between humans and disease-carrying animals.
The study showed that over the last century, climate change has also driven increases in the number of bat species in regions around Central Africa, and scattered patches in Central and South America.
Mike Ryan, the World Health Organization’s health emergencies director, had a conversation recently with his mother, the kind that lots of public health people are having these days, much to their dismay. Ryan’s mother was concerned about one of the Covid-19 vaccines in use in Ireland, where she lives. The one made by AstraZeneca.
Clinical trials had shown the vaccine offered protection against the disease, but less than the vaccine made by Moderna or the one made by Pfizer and BioNTech. Ryan’s mother was worried the vaccine might not be good enough.
Ryan, never one to mince words, decided it was time for a come-to-Jesus chat with his 80-year-old mother. “Whatever vaccine they show up with, you take it,” he told her. “Because that is the best decision you can make on that day for your health.”
That’s a message Ryan and other public health officials are trying to deliver to everyone — but it’s not necessarily one that is being well-received. News coverage and social media posts about clinical trial results are creating a hierarchy of Covid vaccines in the minds of much of the public: “good vaccines” and “bad vaccines.” The former you might try to seek out; the latter might even prompt you to step out of line.
That, health officials say, is a problem.
The concern isn’t just that people will get picky about which vaccine they want, slowing down the task of inoculating enough of the population to blunt the impact of Covid-19. Public health experts also worry a simplified narrative overlooks essential facts — say, that AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines were being tested in clinical trials after variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus started to circulate widely, likely reducing their efficacy more than was the case with Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, the first to be cleared.
The vaccines perceived to be less effective also happen to be ones that may be the best option in rural America or in low-income countries because they don’t require the ultra-cold freezers and complex delivery systems more commonly found in or near major cities.
“I worried that we’re going to have that kind of consumer-driven ‘Oh, is it Moderna? Great! Is it [Johnson & Johnson]? No, thank you, I’ll wait,’” said Alison Buttenheim, an associate professor of nursing and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research focuses on vaccine acceptance. “That’s just going to delay getting to the coverage that we want to get to.”
In truth, the phenomenon is already playing out, even among some who understand the caveats around when the studies were conducted and the operational benefits of these easier-to-deploy vaccines. STAT asked Emory University immunologist Rafi Ahmed if he would specify a preference should his mother ask for advice about Covid vaccines. Ahmed replied without hesitation: He’d tell her to get one of the messengerRNA, or mRNA, vaccines made by Pfizer or Moderna. “It’s human nature,” he insisted. “It’s common sense.”
Experts say that the problem is likely to worsen with the authorization of more vaccines, each with varying efficacy, dosing regimens (one dose or two), and dose intervals (21 days, 28 days, up to 12 weeks in some cases and places). They also say there are only limited messaging strategies to do something about it.
“I think, right now, the message really has to be that the vaccines that are authorized for use are authorized for use because they will provide significant protection against Covid-19 illness. And if you’re not vaccinated, you have no protection against Covid-19 illness,” said Glen Nowak, director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Athens, Ga.
Kasisomayajula “Vish” Viswanath, a professor of health communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said he is deeply concerned that decisions about where to use some of the vaccines that appear less effective will be viewed through a lens of racial or socio-economic inequality, even if the reasons to offer those vaccines in certain settings make sense from a public health point of view and gets vaccine to those places faster.
“This is going to explode in the near future, I think,” Viswanath warned.
This is not a problem that people in public health anticipated. Virtually no one, after all, expected Pfizer and Moderna, the first vaccine makers to produce clinical trial results, to report such stunning efficacy data, at roughly 95%. Seasoned vaccine researchers —with decades of experience in the often-frustrating field of vaccine development — broke into gleeful giggles when talking about the mRNA vaccines.
While states across the country work to protect their older populations from COVID-19, a recent study suggests that mass vaccinations of a different age group could help slow the virus.
People ages 20 to 49 are most responsible for the 2020 COVID-19 resurgences, according to a study published Tuesday in Science Magazine.
After schools re-opened in October 2020, the study says adults in the 20 to 49 range accounted for 72.2% of infections across the U.S. locations they studied. More specifically, the 20-34 age range contributed to 34% of infections and the 35-49 segment contributed to 38.2% of infections.
The study found that just 2.7% of infections came from children ages 0-9, and 7.1% from teens ages 10-19.
Due to the high rates, the researchers believe focusing mass vaccination efforts for the 20-49 age group will help control COVID-19 infections.
“This study indicates that in locations where novel highly-transmissible SARS-CoV-2 lineages have not yet established, additional interventions among adults aged 20-49, such as mass vaccination with transmission-blocking vaccines, could bring resurgent COVID-19 epidemics under control and avert deaths,” according to the paper.
The study maintains that controlling the spread in the 20s to middle-aged demographic would also help with safely reopening schools.