A hand holing a glass with red liquid in it. There is salmi and olives on a table in front. Behind the food is a laptomp with a person holding a beer on the screen

COVID Booster: Delta deadliness, Pfizer effectiveness and drinking habits

Delta variant deadlier than original COVID strain

Researchers have found that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is associated with higher risk of death, hospitalisation and ICU admission.

Using data from 212,326 COVID-19 cases in the Canadian province of Ontario, the study found that Delta infections were 133% deadlier than infection with the original COVID strain. Patients with Delta were also 108% more likely to be hospitalised and 235% more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU). The increased risk was persistent after adjusting for age, sex and comorbidities.

Other variants designated as variants of concern (VOCs) by the World Health Organization – such as the Alpha, Beta and Gamma strains – were also linked to higher risks of hospitalisation, ICU admission and death. However, the most dramatic risk increases were associated with Delta infection.

In more positive news, the research team also found that vaccination against COVID-19 considerably reduced the risk of severe disease and death, even in infection with Delta and other VOCs.

“The effects reported here represent a substantial degree of protection against death conferred by vaccines (about 80%–90%), even when they fail to prevent infection,” the authors said.

Two Pfizer doses 90% effective against hospitalisation for six months

New results indicate that receiving two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective against hospitalisation with COVID-19.

The research examined millions of US medical records and found that full vaccination was 73% effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection and 90% effective in preventing hospitalisation with COVID-19.

Vaccine effectiveness against infection waned somewhat over time, but protection against hospitalisation remained high for at least six months – even for infections with the Delta variant. The protection appeared to be slightly stronger in younger people.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that waning vaccine effectiveness, not vaccine escape by the Delta variant, is a more likely explanation for ‘breakthrough’ cases of infection in fully vaccinated people – meaning that booster vaccines could help with controlling COVID-19.

However, the researchers noted that they did not have access to data about some factors other than vaccination that could have influenced people’s risk of infection and disease, such as masking, social distancing, or occupation.

The study was funded by Pfizer, Inc.

How pandemic restrictions have changed Aussies’ alcohol consumption

Australians’ drinking behaviours have changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, new research suggests.

Interviews with 59 Australian drinkers revealed that lockdowns, working from home and loss of familiar structure changed when and where people consumed alcohol.

Some participants reported drinking at home and during the day more often. Online social events such as Zoom calls also created new contexts for drinking at novel times or places. For example, online social events with participants in many different time zones might see people drinking at times they previously did not, such as in the morning.

Others reported drinking for longer periods, sometimes attributing this change to a lack of other things to do during lockdowns or COVID restrictions.

The research has implications for the broader field of alcohol studies, which often rely on the description of specific “drinking occasions”. These findings show that the boundaries of what constitutes a “drinking occasion” may be shifting and blurring in response to the pandemic and associated restrictions.

Pandemic highlights need to rethink plastic disposal

The COVID-19 pandemic drove a spike in plastic consumption, with an estimated double the amount of plastic waste generated in 2020 compared to 2019, says a recent commentary.

Consumption of single-use plastic items such as disposable face masks, gloves and other PPE skyrocketed with the onset of the pandemic. As lockdowns and restrictions continued, packaging from takeaway food and home deliveries also fed the dramatic increase in plastic waste.

While disposable PPE is an important tool in blocking the spread of infectious disease, plastic waste contributes to air and soil pollution, biodiversity loss, and adverse effects on human health.

Writing in Nature Reviews Earth and Environment, a group of researchers argue that these findings highlight the urgency of finding new solutions to plastic waste.

The scientists advocate for transition to a circular plastic economy, where renewable energy will be used to continuously upcycle plastic.

However, good old “refuse-reduce-reuse” approaches and plastic-free choices remain a key part of the solution.

NZ-made app supports young people’s mental wellbeing during the pandemic

A pilot study from the University of Auckland shows promising results from an app designed to support young people’s mental wellbeing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic and related stresses such as lockdowns, social distancing and interruption of schooling have been associated with poor mental health in young people in several countries. These same circumstances can make it difficult to access face-to-face mental health support services.

To address this need, the researchers developed an app called Whitu (te reo Māori for “seven”) containing seven modules that teach evidence-based coping skills such as mindfulness and self-compassion.

Questionnaire results indicated that app users aged 16–25 experienced significant improvement in anxiety, stress, depression and overall wellbeing after six weeks of using the app. However, no significant improvements in self-compassion, optimism or sleep quality were found.

The researchers plan to continue testing the app in a randomised controlled trial.