COVID Booster: kids’ vaccines, plasma treatments, and aerosols

Did your kids see you drink more during lockdown?

Alcohol consumption increased among some groups when the pandemic hit, and among many more, it moved from bars and pubs to inside the home. This means that young children may have seen their parents drinking more during lockdown.

Researchers at La Trobe University have started to explore this by interviewing 30 parents and carers of children aged between four and 12 on their kids’ perspective of alcohol consumption and how it changed during the lockdown.

Many participants said that their children had probably seen them drinking more since lockdown, and they had varying understandings of alcohol and what it meant, with some viewing it as a treat for adults and others understanding that it could be harmful. Many participants voiced concerns about how much their children seemed to know about alcohol.

The paper, titled “They’re like little police”, based on one parent’s comment, is published in Drug and Alcohol Review.

Pfizer for 5-year-olds?

As yet, there are no COVID vaccines available for children under 12. While children rarely get severe COVID, it does happen – and they now play a major role in spreading the virus through schools and other areas.

The US Federal Drug Administration approved a Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5–11 a fortnight ago – two doses of the same vaccine as the one currently being used in adults, but at a third of the volume. This week, a US-based study in NEJM found that this regime was safe and effective in 1517 children, compared to a control group.

“This is an exciting development,” says Professor Sarah Palmer, from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.

“We can see in the case of the United States there will soon be widespread vaccinations for children between the ages of 5 and 11. We should move promptly here in Australia to extend the same protections to children under the age of 12.”

Associate Professor Nicholas Wood, also from the University of Sydney and also not involved in the study, is more circumspect.

“It is important to note that this is a small study with only 1517 children receiving active vaccine, and will not be sufficient to detect or rule out the myocarditis safety signal that has been noted in older age groups,” says Wood.

“Ongoing monitoring of the safety and effectiveness in this age group will be essential once the vaccine rolls out into the US community. Australia is fortunate in that we can observe the real-world safety data from the use of the Pfizer vaccine in the US to inform any decision we make.”

Could we treat ulcers and COVID with plasma?

An experimental treatment for antibiotic-resistant foot ulcers turns out to work on SARS-CoV-2 as well, at least in the lab.

An international team of researchers, including Australians, have been investigating “cold plasma ionised gas”, combined with a substance called “peracetic acid”, as an antimicrobial-free way of treating diabetic foot ulcers, which are particularly prone to growing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“By combining cold plasma gas with acetyl donor molecules to improve its oxidation action, we found it completely killed bacteria that are found in chronic wounds,” according to lead researcher Dr Endre Szili, a physicist at UniSA.

“We then investigated whether this same technology could be effective at killing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and it appears that it is.

“We showed that we could achieve an 84 per cent reduction in viral load using plasma combined with acetyl donor molecules based on a standard dosage that is safe for human cells. However, it is highly possible with some modifications that we could eradicate it completely.”

Their results are published in Applied Physics Letters.

Hospitals need to understand aerosols better

COVID split open a big misunderstanding in medical science: the idea that most respiratory viruses are transmitted via fairly large droplets, which don’t travel that far – as opposed to tiny aerosols, which can make it over many more metres and hang around in a room for several hours.

The droplet-versus-aerosol transmission debate in the early months of COVID led to a number of ineffective virus control policies – particularly in hospitals. Surgical masks, for instance, can stop droplet transmission, but in a healthcare setting, the tougher N95 respirator is the only real defence against aerosols.

A review in the Annals of Internal Medicine has found that US hospitals are out of date with the current scientific understanding of respiratory viruses. Most of these viruses spread by aerosols, the review found, and are thus more infectious than hospitals prepare for.

The reviewers recommend that hospitals should re-evaluate their infection control measures in light of COVID, and suggest that a national system for grading infection risk and subsequent measures to protect staff and other patients.

And if it’s in aerosols, check the vents

Photo of two students running a tube into a vent pipe and taking notes
Students position tubes and air filters to collect samples from a vent. Credit: Rhett Butler/ECU

A study by US researchers has found that COVID could be spotted by testing the ventilation systems. Much like wastewater testing, this could be an early indicator that the virus is present in a building.

“Detection in air provides advance notice of potential exposures in specific locations within a building,” says Mike Van Scott, interim vice chancellor of East Carolina University, US, which carried out the research.

“It was fortuitous that SARS-CoV-2 could be detected in wastewater, but the next respiratory virus that we encounter may not be as stable, and detection in air would allow us to respond quickly.”

The researchers collected over 240 air samples from student accommodation on the university campus, some of which had been set aside specifically for isolating COVID-positive students, and trialled four different means of SARS-CoV-2 detection.

Publishing their results in the American Journal of Infection Control, they were able to spot COVID-19 in the samples once they were properly concentrated.

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