COVID Booster: winter dose, online abuse, and double RATs

Winter dose for vulnerable Australians

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) says that a fourth, ‘winter’ dose of a COVID vaccine is recommended for a vulnerable swathe of the population: those over 65, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50, aged and disability care residents and severely immunocompromised adults.

“The third or booster dose produces a very strong and rapid antibody response,  but the antibody levels start to decline from about four to six months,” says Professor Jeremy Nicholson, pro-vice chancellor of the Murdoch University Health Futures Institute.

“Given that many of the elderly and at risk groups were vaccinated early they are less well protected now and urgently need a fourth dose, particularly as winter is on its way and there is a possibility of a surge of the omicron BA2 subvariant,” he adds.

Researchers under attack online for publishing COVID-19 research

We know that roughly 62% of Australian scientists say they’ve been abused online for talking to the media about COVID-19.

Now, that figure has been reflected overseas, with an international survey by Science finding that 38% of its 510 respondents, all of whom had published papers on COVID-19, had experienced online harassment.

While this figure is lower than the Australian number, it also represents a broader population of scientists: researchers who haven’t necessarily spoken to the media, just published on a topic. Neither survey has been peer-reviewed.

“Despite climate change scientists having been targets of online trolling and cyber abuse for some time, scientists and researchers have typically not been identified as a vulnerable group online,” says Dr Evita March, a senior lecturer in psychology at Federation University of Australia, who was not involved with the research.

“COVID-19 shone a timely spotlight on the online harassment and abuse scientists and researchers experience – an important issue that warrants consideration and additional support.”

Smelling a RAT with your RAT? Take a second

We know rapid antigen tests can deliver false positives – annoying for the recipient but not nearly as problematic as false negatives. But if you’re asymptomatic, taking a second RAT is likely to be more accurate, according to research in JAMA Network Open.

The research leans on 179,127 RATs taken on asymptomatic employees of a US company from November 2020 to October 2021. Positive RATs were followed up with PCR tests, and 62% of them proved to be false positives.

But, when two positive RATs were found in a row, this led to a 92% chance the participant would test positive on a PCR.

The researchers suggest that taking two RATs may reduce the risk of false positives keeping people away from work.

Designing a lockdown on convenience

We assume that lockdown measures should be chosen based on efficacy. But New Zealand research has suggested that thinking about restrictions in terms of convenience might be useful too, because more convenient measures are more likely to be complied with.

The research, which is published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, asked 16 experts to rank lockdown features on inconvenience.

The researchers suggested that masks were the most convenient, since they largely don’t disrupt work or other activities, while travel restrictions were the least convenient.

The authors suggest asking the public for their perspective next, to see if it matches.

More data on COVID-19 and smell

A Singaporean study of just over 500 participants has found that those who’d had their sense of smell affected by COVID-19 were 16 times more likely to have an “olfactory cleft abnormality”: disturbances in the nose that (the researchers tentatively hope) may heal with time.

The study is published in The Laryngoscope.

“Before this study, most scientists thought that the loss of smell in COVID-19 was mainly due to inflammation and damage to the olfactory nerves. Now, we have compiled evidence from medical imaging that COVID-19 loss of smell is also due to swelling and blockage of the passages in the nose that conduct smells,” says senior author Dr Neville Wei Yang Teo, from Singapore General Hospital.

“We think this is good news for patients who want to recover their sense of smell, since these blockages are expected to resolve with time, while nerve damage in comparison would likely be more difficult to recover from,” says lead author Claire Jing-Wen Tan, from the National University of Singapore.

Please login to favourite this article.