COVID Booster

COVID-19 commemorated with postage stamps

Around the world, countries make special postage stamps to recognise important events or raise money for charities. COVID-19 has inspired 68 commemorative postage stamps so far, according to an article published in JAMA.

The stamps are from 21 different countries, with the United Nations contributing six non-national stamps as well. The first stamp was commissioned in Iran on 17 March 2020.

Nearly a third of the stamps (21) feature healthcare workers, while 14 show the virus, 12 show scientists, 11 show soldiers and seven show patients.

“All the images reflect a sentiment of global solidarity; mass public health efforts; and the hope of overcoming this new medical, scientific, and human challenge,” conclude the authors.

“These stamps prove they remain a creative medium for public health messaging, especially in global regions still reliant on land mail.”

Which Australians are less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

A study from the Australian National University has identified the Australians least likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine once they’re eligible.

The study uses data from a longitudinal survey of 3,000 Australians. Data from the same survey previously found that more Australians had become reluctant to get the vaccine in the past six months.

The paper, published in PLOS ONE, found that 58.5% of respondents would definitely get the vaccine, 29% had low levels of hesitancy, 7% had high hesitancy and 5.5% were very resistant.

Women, people from poorer areas, people with populist views and people who were more religious were more likely to be reluctant to get the vaccine.

On the other hand, people with higher household income, more confidence in their state or territory governments and hospitals, and more supportive of migration were more likely to want the vaccine.

The authors suggest that public health messaging will be an effective tool to convince the vaccine-hesitant to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, this will be insufficient for the highly resistant people.

Where have all the other viruses gone?

COVID-19 lockdowns suppressed the spread of other seasonal respiratory viruses, according to a global team of scientists.

In an article published in the Journal of Medical Virology, the researchers say that viruses like the flu and RSV were “severely curtailed” by coronavirus restrictions, an effect first seen in southern hemisphere populations like Australia and New Zealand. Now, the effect is being observed in the UK and Europe, as most influenza-related consultations are COVID-19-related.

But these viruses haven’t entirely disappeared.

“More recently, with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, some parts of Australia have been experiencing high levels of RSV activity,” the authors note in their paper.

“These RSV peaks are occurring later than any previous seasonal RSV activity, which suggests that the COVID-19 prevention measures may have simply delayed the epidemics of some of these viruses, with subsequent reappearance when measures are relaxed beyond a certain level.”

But even a temporary pause in transmission was a welcome respite. Influenza rates in Australia dropped below average levels in 2020, and influenza-related deaths plummeted from more than 800 in 2019 to 37 in 2020.

Vaccine immunity passed onto infants in pregnancy

US researchers have found that the new mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective in pregnant and lactating women – and allows them to pass protective antibodies onto their newborns.

By looking at 131 women – 84 pregnant, 31 lactating and 16 non-pregnant – who received either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, the study found that antibody levels were comparable in all three groups. Crucially, the vaccine-generated antibodies were found in all umbilical cord blood and breastmilk samples taken, and so are being passed from mother to child.

200117 whooping cough vaccination pregnant woman

“We now have clear evidence the COVID vaccines can induce immunity that will protect infants,” says Galit Alter, co-author, from the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital.

In addition, the researchers found that antibody levels were higher in vaccinated pregnant women than those who had been naturally infected with COVID-19. Plus, there was no significant difference in side effects between pregnant and non-pregnant women.

“This news of excellent vaccine efficacy is very encouraging for pregnant and breastfeeding women, who were left out of the initial COVID-19 vaccine trials,” adds co-author Andrea Edlow, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Mass General.

SARS-CoV-2 infects cells in the mouth

COVID-19 primarily infects the upper airways and lungs, but there is growing evidence that it can also infect other cells in the digestive system, blood vessels, kidneys – and now the mouth, according to new research.

While researchers already knew that saliva can contain high levels of the virus and that saliva testing is nearly as reliable as nasal swabbing, it was unclear where the virus in saliva actually comes from.

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RNA for SARS-CoV-2 (pink) and the ACE2 receptor (white) was found in human salivary gland cells, which are outlined in green. Credit: Paola Perez, PhD, Warner Lab, NIDCR

“Based on data from our laboratories, we suspected at least some of the virus in saliva could be coming from infected tissues in the mouth itself,” says Blake Warner from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in the US. Warner is a co-author on the new study, published in Nature Medicine, which confirms this suspicion. The research may help explain a range of symptoms of COVID-19 including blistering, dry mouth and loss of taste. The results also suggest that the mouth may play a role in transmitting the virus to the lungs or digestive system.

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