COVID Booster: Vaccine tax, sense of smell, and masking kindy teachers

Maybe young kids can still see emotions through masks

One of the concerns around masking teachers is that children will have trouble detecting their teachers’ emotions, making it harder to teach. A few studies have indicated that it’s harder for older kids to detect emotions from photos of people wearing masks, but a team of Swiss researchers have set out to see whether this happens with younger children too.

The research team, based at University Hospital Lausanne, ran a study with 276 children, all 3–6 years of age, from nine Swiss day care centres.

The researchers showed each child photos of masked and unmasked actors, each displaying different facial expressions, and asked children to indicate with an emoticon what they thought the emotion was (or whether they wanted to quit the experiment).

Children correctly identified the actors’ emotions 71% of the time when unmasked, and 67% of the time when masked. They only said they didn’t know the answer 3% of the time.

“Participants in this study, who had been exposed to face masks for nearly a year, recognised emotions on pictures better than has been reported in previous research, even with face masks,” write the researchers in their paper, published in JAMA Pediatrics.

Should we use a vaccine tax to get the jab to poorer nations?

An editorial in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues that taxation would be the best way to boost vaccine distribution to poor nations.

The current international vaccine initiative, COVAX, relies on donations from wealthier nations. According to the editorial’s author, political scientist Andreas Albertsen of Aarhus University, Denmark, this allows nations to cut other streams of foreign aid to boost vaccines, or lets nations that give very little money to keep giving very little.

Small glass world globe next to a syringe
Credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

The paper suggests that a tax would be a more effective way to get revenue to COVAX.

“For every vaccine bought, a fraction of the price paid for the vaccine is set aside to create a fairer vaccine distribution. Under the vaccine tax scheme, the selling firm is responsible for transferring the money raised in this way to COVAX,” explains Albertsen.

“The fairest version of the vaccine tax may be a progressive one, where the fraction allocated for COVAX is higher for high-income countries than for middle-income countries. It could also be considered fair to exempt low-income countries from the tax.”

There would be many ways to implement this tax, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

“The vaccine tax is not a radical proposal,” adds Albertsen. “It is conceived as a piecemeal improvement of a system that is flawed in many ways. It cannot be expected to address all these flaws.”

Australian doctors and midwives are reluctant to recommend the vaccine during pregnancy

Early this year, just 18% of Australian doctors and 6% of midwives said that they’d recommend a COVID-19 vaccine for pregnant people, according to a paper in PLOS One.

Pregnant woman received vaccination
Credit: ArtMarie/Getty Image

Researchers from Curtin, Deakin, and Melbourne universities, as well as the Burnet Institute, conducted an online survey of 853 people, including 58 doctors, 391 midwives and 78 midwifery students, from late March to early May 2021, when the vaccine was still only available to certain eligible populations.

The doctors and students were significantly more likely to recommend the vaccine to pregnant people in their care, but midwives were less likely. Just 54% of practitioners recommended the vaccine for those who are breastfeeding, despite national guidelines promoting this.

The researchers point out that this reluctance may have been compounded with the very low levels of COVID infection in Australia at the time of the study, and thus low perceived risk of catching COVID. They stress that these numbers are likely to have changed in recent months.

Up to 1.6 million people still struggling with their sense of taste and smell

A new study in JAMA estimates that between 700,000 and 1.6 million people in the US still haven’t fully recovered their sense of taste and smell, even six months after being infected with COVID-19.

Chronic Olfactory Dysfunction (COD) – a distorted or reduced ability to taste and smell – has emerged throughout the pandemic as a symptom of long-term COVID-19.

The researchers, led by the Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis, say that COD is a pressing public health concern.

“The loss of olfaction has been associated with decreased general quality of life, impaired food intake, inability to detect harmful gas and smoke, enhanced worries about personal hygiene, diminished social well-being, and the initiation of depressive symptoms,” they write.

No one has yet tracked COD recovery beyond six months after infection. This study is the first step in understanding it by estimating the scale of the concern; the researchers urge for further studies into how to treat COVID-19 COD.

The COVID-19 financial supplement helped Australians to look for work

During the first wave of COVID-19, the federal government made an additional payment of $550 per fortnight to people on social security payments, and suspended “mutual obligations” – additional jobseeking and other requirements that those on payments had to meet.

People queuing outside centrelink
People queue to enter Centrelink on March 24, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

A study published in the Australian Journal of Social Issues has found that not only did this payment increase people’s financial stability and allow them to feel dignity, but it also helped them to look for work and engage in more forms of productive unpaid labour.

The researchers ran an online survey of people who’d received the supplement, receiving 92 responses.

They found that the extra supplement allowed people to (1) meet basic needs like groceries and medication with more regularity, (2) buy things that made them readier to work, like phones and bicycles, and (3) improved the lives of their children.

The supplement and the suspension of mutual obligations also improved the respondents’ psychological health, and allowed them time to plan, develop financial strategies and improve their engagement in the labour market through extra study and more time to attend job interviews (among other things).

The researchers stress that their sample size was small, and they’re hoping more data will be gathered on “this ‘natural’ experiment implemented by the Federal government during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown”.

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