"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 12th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Experts warn of loneliness epidemic worsening alongside COVID-19
A growing epidemic of loneliness is affecting large swaths of the U.S. population, exacerbated by isolation measures advised by health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say the country needs to be addressing the massive public health concern now, particularly as widespread vaccination is still months away. Researchers for years have recommended standardized guidelines to address social isolation and loneliness, similar to those offered for diet and exercise. People with balance — in activities including family time, sleep, diet, exercise and work — tend to be less lonely.
Hygiene Helpers
Beware the narrative of ‘normality by June’ – it could go the same way as ‘five days of Christmas’
In the UK, the danger now is that in our excitement over developing effective vaccines against a virus that was unknown just over a year ago we will be seduced into failing to rebuild our basic public health defences. That danger is made worse by the combined pressure of born-again free marketeers and the hedonistic impulses of a public that is being encouraged to believe that a normal summer can be just round the corner with all-inclusive holidays in favourite European resorts a tantalising few months away. Sadly this narrative of the possibility of normality from June onwards could well go the same way as the ‘five days of Christmas’ Boris Johnson promised us back in December. The WHO mantra that ‘nobody is safe until everybody is safe’ is what should inform our expectations rather than one of near instant gratification. If the UK had had a grip on the circulation of the virus it would have thwarted the virus’s propensity to mutate as it passes through large numbers of hosts in the population as it did with the Kent variant.
Nobel Prize economists call for vaccine equity and debt relief
Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Michael Spence are spearheading calls for urgent action to help poorer countries recover from the economic ravages of the coronavirus pandemic, including measures to advance vaccine equity, debt relief, and bolstering fiscal resources for cash-strapped nations. The proposals were outlined in a new interim report released on Thursday – the one-year anniversary of the global pandemic – by the Institute for New Economic Thinking’s Commission on Global Economic Transformation, co-chaired by Stiglitz and Spence.
Community Activities
Loneliness and anxiety ‘magnified’ by pandemic, say Samaritans
Loneliness, anxiety, bereavement, financial worries and relationship problems have all been “magnified” by the Covid-19 pandemic, mental health charity Samaritans Ireland has said. The organisation revealed today that their volunteers have listened to callers’s concerns for almost 73,000 hours since the pandemic began. Samaritans Regional Director Rory Fitzgerald – who also volunteers on the helpline - has estimated that three out of five calls under the current Level 5 restrictions relate to worries about the Covid-19 pandemic.
MP to host Zoom meeting to tackle post-pandemic loneliness
York Central MP Rachael Maskell is inviting constituents to a Zoom public meeting to discuss how to tackle loneliness after Covid. The Shadow Minister for Civil Society and Loneliness says she is holding the meeting because she has been contacted by a large number of people telling her they feel lonely, isolated and scared as the country eases out of its third national lockdown. She said others had experienced loneliness for a long time but longed for friends to talk to and people who cared.
As pandemic enters 2nd year, voices of resilience emerge
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world has seen death, economic hardship and anxiety on an unprecedented scale. But it has also witnessed self-sacrifice, courage and perseverance. In India, Brazil, South Africa and other places around the globe, people are helping others and reinventing themselves. “I’ve been adaptable, like water,” said a woman whose dream of becoming a U.S. boxing champion was dealt a blow by the crisis, though not necessarily a knockout punch. Their voices and images can inspire, even though the future is as uncertain for them as it is for everyone else.
Working Remotely
Is the five-day commute over? New data suggests people only want to work in the office ‘two days a week’
Full-time work as we once knew it could look very different post-pandemic suggest experts and new data. A recent Deloitte poll shows that many of us would prefer to spilt our working time between the office and home. Research conducted with 800 people from a range of backgrounds, found that those who can work from home would choose to continue to do so when restrictions ease, choosing to travel to an office only a couple of days of the week. “On average they’ve said they’d like to work in the office two days a week,” said Ian Stewart, chief economist for Deloitte on the people surveyed.
For better or worse, working from home is here to stay
One year into the coronavirus pandemic, employers, particularly tech companies, are increasingly adopting extended work-from-home policies. For the most part, workers applaud this new approach. Vaccinated or not, more than half of employees said that, given the option, they would want to keep working from home even after the coronavirus crisis subsides, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.
Ring Lights And Late Nights: How The Remote Revolution Has Changed The Workforce
Today, nearly half (47%) of American employees are currently working from home at least part of the time, according to a study by Glassdoor. As vaccine production and distribution ramps up, some employers have announced definitive return-to-work dates. Others have committed to permanent remote-work arrangements, and freelance platform Upwork expects that 36.2 million Americans will be working from home by 2025, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic levels—and a sign that this grand experiment in telecommuting has done more than just make Zoom a part of our everyday lives and vocabulary. Here, we take a look at how one year of working remotely has changed the workforce.
Virtual Classrooms
California schools aren't reopening quite how we expected
Middle and high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District will head back to campus two days a week in late April or early May, assuming various stars align. Under L.A. Unified’s agreement with teachers, which is similar to those in other large California districts, students will still be taught remotely, but roughly half the time they’ll sit in classrooms on campus, if that makes any sense. Instead of traveling from classroom to classroom for each subject, they will stay with their advisory teacher — in the modern version of homeroom — and learn online from other teachers in other classrooms. Students at home on those days will be in the same virtual classes as those at school, both groups learning online.
Public Policies
Biden aims for quicker shots, 'independence from this virus'
One year after the nation was brought to a near-standstill by the coronavirus, President Joe Biden pledged in his first prime-time address Thursday night to make all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1 and raised the possibility of beginning to “mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July. He offered Americans fresh hope and appealed anew for their help. Speaking in the White House East Room, Biden honored the “collective suffering” of Americans over the past year in his 24-minute address and then offered them a vision for a return to a modicum of normalcy this summer. “We are bound together by the loss and the pain of the days that have gone by,” he said. “We are also bound together by the hope and the possibilities in the days in front of us.”
COVID-19: France faces challenge to persuade millions of vaccine sceptics to take jab
As much of the world desperately seeks COVID vaccines, there is evidence in France that millions of people are reluctant to have a jab. The most recent polls suggest around half of the adult population may refuse a vaccination - leading health professionals to worry about public safety long term. French health sociologist Dr Caroline De Pauw speaks to us from the University of Lille and says that fear and scepticism are rooted in past health scares especially over the hepatitis B vaccine in the 1990s.
Oxford-AstraZeneca: EU regulator says 'no indication' vaccine linked to blood clots
There is no indication that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is linked to an increased risk of blood clots, the EU's medicines regulator says.It said the number of cases in vaccinated people was no higher than in the general population. The statement came after a number of countries, including Denmark and Norway, suspended the use of the jab. The suspension followed reports that a small number of people had developed clots after receiving the vaccine. There were also reports that a 50-year-old man had died in Italy after developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) following a dose of the jab. "There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine," the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday.
Seven European countries clamp down on AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as safety worries threaten rollout
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has gotten off to a rocky start in Europe—to put it mildly. First, a supply shortfall triggered a public back-and-forth between executives and government officials. Then several countries expressed doubts about how well the vaccine works in people over 65. Now seven countries are raising safety concerns. Denmark, Norway, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have halted some or all of their AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccinations over fears of blood clots, France24 reports. Previously, Austria had stopped using a single batch of the vaccine after a clotting issue turned up in one recipient. In the wake of the news, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg stopped using vaccines from the same batch, France24 reports. Denmark and Norway temporarily stopped all vaccinations with AZ shots, according to the report.
Investigation: Drugmaker ‘bullied’ Latin American nations
Drugmaker Pfizer employed “high-level bullying” against at least two Latin American countries during negotiations to acquire vaccines according to a recent investigation, including requesting the nations put sovereign assets as collateral for payments. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), a UK-based nonprofit media organisation in an investigation unveiled in February said the pharmaceutical company’s negotiation technique led to a months-long delay in reaching a deal in one country, and the total failure to reach an agreement with two others, Argentina and Brazil. According to the yearlong investigation, which relied on unnamed officials, Pfizer “bullied” nations during talks.
EU drugs regulator clears J&J's single-shot COVID-19 vaccine
Europe approved Johnson & Johnson’s single dose COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, paving the way for the first shots to be delivered in a month as the bloc seeks to speed up a stuttering inoculation campaign and boost its supplies. The COVID-19 shot is the fourth to be endorsed for use in the European Union after vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-Oxford University and Moderna, and is recommended for those over 18 years of age, the European Medicines agency (EMA) said. It’s the first single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
Maintaining Services
Former U.S. presidents to urge Americans to get coronavirus vaccine in new ads
Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter will star in two new public service announcements (PSA) for the coronavirus vaccine alongside former First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton and Rosalynn Carter, the Ad Council announced on Thursday. “The science is clear. These vaccines will protect you and those you love from this dangerous and deadly disease,” said President Bush in one of the PSAs with Obama and Clinton, urging Americans to get vaccinated. “That’s the first step to ending the pandemic and moving our country forward,” said Obama.
Covid-19: Brazil experts issue warning as hospitals 'close to collapse'
Health systems in most of Brazil's largest cities are close to collapse because of Covid-19 cases, its leading health institute warns. More than 80% of intensive care unit beds are occupied in the capitals of 25 of Brazil's 27 states, Fiocruz said. Experts warn that the highly contagious variant in Brazil may have knock-on effects in the region and beyond. "Brazil is a threat to humanity," Fiocruz epidemiologist Jesem Orellana told the AFP news agency.
Covid-19: NHS waits at record high as second wave hits care
The Covid surge in January hit key services including cancer and routine surgery, NHS England figures show. Less than half the expected number of operations were done, pushing the waiting list to a record-high of 4.6m. More than 300,000 of those have been waiting more than a year for treatment - compared to 1,600 before the pandemic began. Surgeons described it as a dire situation which would take a long time to turnaround.
China risks COVID ‘immunity gap’ amid slow vaccine uptake
Only about 4 percent of China’s population was vaccinated against the coronavirus by the end of February but there appears to be little sense of urgency among most health officials or the public about it. The reported goal is to vaccinate 40 percent of the population by the end of July – which would mean vaccinating 560 million more people – and achieve possible herd immunity by the end of the year in time for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Reaching those targets will require an enormous government push but there are few signs of that happening. And the country’s success in controlling the virus has ironically reduced the incentive to get protected, resulting in an “immunity gap” that leaves China’s population at risk and necessitates continued strict border controls and localised lockdowns when outbreaks occur
Healthcare Innovations
Canada says AstraZeneca vaccine is safe after Norway and Denmark suspend use
Canada on Thursday said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe after Denmark and Norway temporarily suspended its use amid reports that blood clots had formed in some who had received the shot. “Health Canada is aware of reports of adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and would like to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks,” the health department said in a statement. “At this time, there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events,” it said. Canada received 500,000 AstraZeneca doses made at the Serum Institute of India last week, and expects to get 1.5 million more in by May.
Single Covid vaccine dose less effective for cancer patients, study finds
Cancer patients given a single coronavirus vaccine develop significantly inferior protection against the illness than those who receive a booster shot, according to a UK study that called for a reassessment of the gap between jabs for vulnerable individuals. Three weeks after receiving a first dose of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, sufficient antibody levels to combat the virus were detected in 39 per cent of patients with organ cancer and 13 per cent of those with blood cancer, found researchers at King’s College London and the Francis Crick Institute. This compared with 97 per cent of those who were cancer free. When a second shot was given, however, the effectiveness of the vaccine jumped to about 95 per cent after two weeks in organ cancers patients, the study found. There was insufficient data to reach a conclusion on blood cancer patients. The researchers did not test the effectiveness of any other coronavirus vaccine.
New antibody drug ‘reduces hospital admission or death from Covid-19 by 85%’
A monoclonal antibody drug reduces hospital admission or death from Covid-19 by 85 per cent, the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has announced. The drug, called VIR-7831, is a new treatment for people with mild to moderate illness, and the study has been so successful that it has been stopped early. GSK and its partner, Vir Biotechnology, plan to immediately seek an emergency use authorisation in the United States and approval in other countries, including potentially in the UK.
Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine 97% effective against asymptomatic infection
Data suggest Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine prevents asymptomatic Covid-19 infection. Lower COVID-19 disease incidence rates observed in individuals fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Wednesday that real-world data from Israel suggests that their COVID-19 vaccine is 94% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections, meaning the vaccine could significantly reduce transmission. According to the analysis, unvaccinated individuals were 44 times more likely to develop symptomatic COVID-19 and 29 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those who had received the vaccine.
AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses have better efficacy when given 12 weeks apart, study finds
Waiting three months between the first and second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine results in high efficacy, backing current recommendations from Australian authorities, new research shows. The study, which involved more than 17,000 participants and was published recently in The Lancet, found the vaccine — which most people in Australia will receive — had an 81 per cent efficacy rate when a second dose was given three months after the first.
COVID-19 survivors may be able to skip 2nd vaccine dose
COVID-19 survivors may not need a second dose of mRNA-based vaccine to prevent subsequent symptomatic infections, which could stretch limited vaccine supplies, reports a research letter published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai used a convenience sample from an ongoing study of 110 participants in the longitudinal Protection Associated with Rapid Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 (PARIS) study. All received one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine in 2020, although 39.0% were seropositive for COVID-19 antibodies prior to vaccination. Eighty-eight participants received the Pfizer vaccine, and 22 had the Moderna vaccine. Mean patient age was 40 years.
Novavax vaccine 96% effective against original coronavirus, 86% vs British variant in UK trial
Novavax Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine was 96% effective in preventing cases caused by the original version of the coronavirus in a late-stage trial conducted in the United Kingdom, the company said on Thursday, moving it a step closer to regulatory approval. There were no cases of severe illness or deaths among those who got the vaccine, the company said, in a sign that it could stop the worse effects of new variants that have cropped up. The vaccine was 86% effective in protecting against the more contagious virus variant first discovered and now prevalent in the United Kingdom, for a combined 90% effectiveness rate overall based on data from infections of both versions of the coronavirus.