An infodemic is not a pandemic
When SARS broke out in 2003, people coined the term ‘infodemic’ to describe the onslaught of misinformation that followed its announcement, exacerbated by the internet.
It’s a term that’s felt highly appropriate to the current times, and a lot of valuable work has gone into studying and combating the rapid spread of misinformation. But an international team of researchers, including representatives from the World Health Organization, want to caution against studying infodemics like they’re a virus.
“The apparent analogies between epidemics and infodemics have led to the suggestion that scientists and policymakers can investigate, model, and monitor the two phenomena similarly,” write the researchers in an opinion piece in the journal Cell.
“We need to better understand how individuals acquire or avoid information and how those decisions may influence their behaviour.”
Co-author Walter Quattrociocchi, from Sapienza University, Italy, adds that, “unlike with a virus, we can decide to accept or not to accept information.
“This peculiarity makes the respective modelling and forecasting processes completely different.”
What did the pandemic do to New Year’s drug use?
New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest nights of the year for designer drug use around the world, but did COVID-19 change things last New Year’s Eve?
According to a study by the University of South Australia, it did. The study also found that the Kiwis, with some of the laxest restrictions in the world last December, also partied the hardest on the 31st.
In a study of 10 countries, the researchers found that New Zealand had the highest levels of new psychoactive substances in its wastewater after New Year’s.
Australia and Canada also had high levels of designer drugs, while China and Fiji had the lowest. (Other countries in the study included Belgium, Italy, Korea, Spain and the US).
“All samples were collected against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, when all countries except New Zealand were in lockdown, limiting social interaction and large gatherings,” says Associate Professor Cobus Gerber, a wastewater epidemiologist at UniSA.
“This probably impacted on the distribution and consumption of certain drugs.”
The study is described in detail in a paper in Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
Don’t treat COVID-19 with convalescent plasma
The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against using convalescent plasma – blood transfusions from people who’ve had COVID-19 – as a treatment for new victims of the disease.
This advice comes from evidence from 16 different trials, including 16,236 COVID-19 patients in total.
In a meta-analysis published in The BMJ, a team of WHO researchers say this data shows that convalescent plasma is ineffective, expensive and time-consuming.
The blood transfusion treatment is now strongly discouraged for patients with mild COVID-19, and discouraged for routine use in patients with severe COVID-19.
The only exception is randomised-controlled trials. The panel decided there isn’t yet enough evidence on patients with severe COVID to fully recommend against it – so convalescent plasma may still be used in those trials.
Do vaccine lotteries work?
Several US states have begun offering cash prizes for getting vaccinated, via lottery, with some places granting prizes of millions of dollars. Does this technique actually work as a vaccine incentive?
According to a paper in JAMA, the answer is yes, though only in some places.
The researchers examined data from a cross-sectional house survey, including 403,714 adults in total, to get information on vaccination status.
They found that on average, announcing lottery programs was associated with a 23% jump in vaccination rates. But the results varied hugely – in some states, such as Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia, the lotteries didn’t appear to have much effect.
“Vaccine acceptance may be a much more complex process with political, psychological, cultural, geographical, or socioeconomic elements involved that could explain the differential results of lottery programs in different states,” point out the authors in their paper.
Longer interval best between mRNA doses?
When vaccine supplies are limited, it may help to delay the second dose of a COVID vaccine to ensure more widespread partial coverage in the population. There’s also been evidence to show that with some adenovirus vaccines, like the AstraZeneca vaccine, increasing this interval makes it work more effectively.
But a small Canadian study has found that for the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, increasing the intervals between doses may help as well. The study is published in JAMA.
The researchers examined blood samples from paramedics, each of whom had been given either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines with doses at either the recommended intervals (roughly three and four weeks, respectively) or at longer intervals.
The participants who’d been vaccinated at longer intervals had better immunogenicity than those at the normal intervals. The researchers say that more studies are needed to validate this result.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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