COVID Booster: Delta, drinking and diet

Pfizer vaccine looks to be somewhat effective against Delta SARS-CoV-2 variant

A study on blood serum has found that the Pfizer vaccine effectively neutralises variants of SARS-CoV-2 – including the very infectious Delta variant.

Researchers based at the University of Texas Medical Branch, USA, examined blood serum samples from those who had been vaccinated with the Pfizer jab. The serum was able to neutralise all versions of the virus – although it was most effective at neutralising a ‘normal’ strain of COVID, isolated in January 2020 and least effective at neutralising the Kappa variant.

The research was funded by Pfizer and BioNTech, and is published in Nature.

Lockdowns led Australian women to drink more

Middle-aged women in both Australia and the UK bought and drank more alcohol during lockdowns, according to research led by Flinders University.

“We found those that were struggling to get through the COVID-19 lockdowns in both Australia and the UK increased their drinking,” says Emma Miller, a researcher at Flinders University and lead author on a paper published in Frontiers in Public Health.

The researchers surveyed over 2400 women aged between 45 and 64 in the UK and Australia, asking them about their drinking habits and their alcohol stockpiling behaviour.

“Previous research of ours has also shown women shift their perception from long term uncertainties, such as the dangers of alcohol, to refocus on the more pressing need to ‘get through’ the pandemic – deciding that what they perceive as short term benefits, outweigh the long-term health risks,” explains Miller.

“While lockdowns have an important role to play in curbing the spread of COVID-19, we need to be mindful of their wider impact to best prepare our health system for the future ahead.”

However! Among younger people…

COVID-19 results in less alcohol-related harm, but more depression and anxiety among Australian youths

A survey of 1927 young Australians has found a decrease in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harms, but an increase in depression and anxiety symptoms during the pandemic. Concerningly, there wasn’t a matching increase in help-seeking from mental health professionals.

“Young people may disproportionately experience certain stressors associated with the pandemic, such as reduced casual working hours and disruption to other structured activities like tertiary education,” says Emily Upton, a research officer at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre.

“Young people generally consume more alcohol outside of the home, so we would expect alcohol consumption to decline during COVID-19 restrictions. However, we saw an increase in drinking alone and drinking ‘virtually’ with others,” says Philip Clare, a biostatistician at the University of Sydney.

“Similarly, the decline in alcohol-related harms may be driven by the fact that drinking was more likely to occur alone or ‘virtually’ with others due to the need to isolate, which reduces the risk of harms such as fighting with strangers, and traffic accidents.”

A study describing these results is published in Psychological Medicine.

Plant and fish-based diets may provide protection against COVID-19

A study of 2,884 European doctors and nurses has found that those who self-reported eating more plants and fish had lower odds of contracting, and suffering from, COVID-19.

The researchers surveyed doctors and nurses with jobs that placed them at high risk of contracting COVID-19. Of the nearly 3,000 participants, 568 had at some point had symptoms of COVID-19 or a positive COVID test, and 138 said they’d had moderate to severe COVID.

Once they’d adjusted for age, ethnicity, lifestyle, and other factors, they determined that those with plant-based diets were 73% less likely to have moderate/severe COVID-19, while pescatarians were 59% less likely.

“The trends in this study are limited by study size (small numbers with a confirmed positive test) and design (self-reporting on diet and symptoms) so caution is needed in the interpretation of the findings,” comments Deputy Chair of the NNEdPro Nutrition and COVID-19 Taskforce, Shane McAuliffe.

“However, a high-quality diet is important for mounting an adequate immune response, which in turn can influence susceptibility to infection and its severity.”

The research is published in The BMJ.

Front line of the immune system plays a role in COVID severity

A group of US researchers have identified one of the genetic reasons some people have a much more severe response to COVID-19.

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Crucial cytokines involved in inflammation processes. Credit: selvanegra / Getty Images

According to the research, people with lower levels of certain inflammatory proteins circulating in their blood are at more risk of having a severe version of the disease. Without these front-line defenders, the secondary immune response kicks into gear faster to compensate, triggering a damaging ‘cytokine storm’.

Genetics is one of the causes for a lower front-line defence like this, but age and weight also play a role.

The research is published in Clinical & Translational Immunology.

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