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Pandemic may affect infants’ brain development; coronavirus can trigger kidney scarring

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The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review.

Pandemic may be affecting infants’ brains

Coronavirus infection during pregnancy does not appear to affect infants’ brain function, but the pandemic itself may be having an impact, a study published on Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics suggests.

Researchers in New York City tracked 255 full-term infants born during the pandemic, including 114 whose mothers had COVID-19 during pregnancy. When the babies were six months old, the researchers saw “absolutely no effect of maternal infection with SARS-CoV-2” on neurodevelopment, said Dr. Dani Dumitriu of Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute. But overall, compared with 62 infants born before the pandemic, the babies born during the health crisis had slightly lower scores on tasks involving large muscles, tasks requiring small muscle movements, and personal interactions. The findings do not necessarily mean these infants will suffer long-term consequences, Dumitriu said. Assessments at six months are poor predictors of long-term outcomes, she added.

If additional research confirms that birth during the pandemic negatively impacts neurodevelopment, she said, “because this is such an early time point there are lots of opportunities to intervene and get these babies onto the right developmental trajectory.”

Coronavirus can trigger kidney scarring

The coronavirus can directly damage the kidneys by initiating a cascade of molecular events that leads to scarring, new laboratory research found. The resulting scar tissue could have long-term impacts on survivors’ kidney function, according to a report published in Cell Stem Cell.

The researchers exposed tiny replicas of kidneys to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in test tubes. They found the virus could infect multiple types of kidney cells and trigger “a molecular switch” that starts the scarring process. The findings suggest that high rates of kidney function decline seen in a separate study of more than 90,000 COVID-19 survivors might be due to scarring of the kidney by the virus, the researchers said.

Jitske Jansen of Radboud University Medical Center in The Netherlands said in a statement that her team had found another “piece of the puzzle showing the deleterious effects the virus can have in the body.”

Lower COVID-19 risks seen after weight-loss surgery

Weight-loss surgery may reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 even if the infected person is still obese after losing weight, according to a report in JAMA Surgery.

Researchers studied 20,212 obese adults, including 5,053 who had undergone bariatric surgery before the pandemic and lost a substantial amount of weight. On average, the people in the surgery group, while still technically obese, weighed about 44 pounds (20 kg) less than study participants who had not undergone the surgery. Although the two groups had similar rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection at about 9%, infected patients with prior weight-loss surgery had a 49% lower risk of hospitalization, a 63% lower risk of need for supplemental oxygen, and a 60% lower risk of becoming critically ill or dying compared to the non-surgery group. Obesity is well known to be a risk factor for poor COVID-19 outcomes, but as the study was not a randomized trial it cannot prove weight-loss surgery caused the better outcomes. Still, the authors said, patients who underwent weight-loss surgery were likely healthier when they became infected.

The results “support the reversibility of the health consequences of obesity” for patients with COVID-19, coauthor Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement. “This study suggests that an emphasis on weight loss as a public health strategy can improve outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic… That is a very important finding considering that 40% of Americans have obesity. ”

Click for a Reuters graphic https://tmsnrt.rs/3c7R3Bl on vaccines in development.

 

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Megan Brooks; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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PEI has the highest rate of COVID-19 cases amongst Canadian provinces – SaltWire Network

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As of Jan. 21, P.E.I. had the highest reported rate of COVID-19 cases, with 1,050 per 100,000 people, of any province in Canada over the last seven days.

Only one jurisdiction, the Northwest Territories, surpassed the province’s rate of cases over the last week, with 2,024 cases per 100,000 people. The next closest province to P.E.I. was Alberta with 759 cases per 100,000.

But Susan Kirkland, head of Dalhousie University’s department of community health and epidemiology, said daily case counts and case rates do not capture the whole story.


“There does become a point where following cases – it collapses.”

Susan Kirkland, Dalhousie University Department of community health and epidemiology 


Kirkland says it is now clear that community spread of COVID-19 is widespread in Atlantic Canada, including in provinces like P.E.I., where testing of incoming travellers had previously helped contain spread of the virus.

Kirkland said differences in testing criteria, as well as differing reporting details mean comparing case rates between provinces is becoming less and less useful.

Dr. Susan Kirkland, head of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University, says that even after people are vaccinated for COVID-19, a strange new world awaits us. – SaltWire Network

While P.E.I. still allows PCR-RT testing for anyone with symptoms, Nova Scotia has limited PCR testing to specific vulnerable populations that are symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are provided to the general population that is symptomatic.

In many provinces, daily positive case counts are not capturing the full number of people who have contracted the virus. New Brunswick has also stopped reporting daily case counts in COVID-19 briefings because of this, although the information is still available on the province’s website.

Kirkland said other indicators like hospitalization rates and test positivity are better indicators of how well a province like P.E.I. is faring amid the Omicron wave.

“Ultimately, what we are trying to do is stop the health-care system from (collapsing),” Kirkland said.

P.E.I.’s most recent test positivity rate was 20.7 per cent – significantly higher than all three other Atlantic provinces. There have been 19 hospitalizations since the first Omicron case was announced on Dec. 14.

After weeks of escalating case counts, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King imposed tighter public health restrictions on Jan. 19, closing gyms and in-room dining in restaurants.

Reporting varies

Since Jan. 18, the P.E.I. government has stopped recording daily counts of outbreaks associated with long-term care homes, shelters, the provincial correctional centre and other congregate settings.

While the lack of daily reporting has occurred in conjunction with continuing escalating case counts, P.E.I. may not be the only province to have made a decision to report less information about outbreaks.

Nova Scotia is continuing to report daily positive cases associated with long-term care outbreaks, but the province has recently decided to not report school outbreak numbers.

As an epidemiologist, Kirkland said she was not sure what she thought of public health offices restricting reporting on outbreak case counts.

She said Atlantic Canadians have become used to COVID-19 being contained. This has made it difficult for public health offices to communicate that overall containment of the virus is less feasible, due to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

“I think that what public health is now doing is trying to turn the corner to say, ‘we have to start to learn how to live with COVID,’ ” Kirkland said.

“We have to deal with the things that we know will reduce risks – we have to wear masks. We have to improve ventilation where we can. We have to limit social contacts in areas where we can,” she said.

But Kirkland also believes governments are faced with the challenges of prioritizing a safe reopening of schools.

“Very often people will say, ‘why is it safe for kids to be in school but we need to close restaurants,’ ” she said.

“That’s not the point. The point is that the priority is to keep kids in school. So, we have to do these other things in the community so that kids can stay in school. Because that’s what we think is the most important.”

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Now is not the time for vaccine mandates, even as vaccinations among children remain low: experts – CBC.ca

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Less than half of Canadian children ages five to 11 have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, but Canadian experts say now may not be the time to start mandating them for students attending school in person.

In December, Windsor’s city council endorsed a recommendation from its health unit that all elementary school students be vaccinated before returning to school. 

Meanwhile, in the United States, New York City now requires students to be vaccinated before taking part in extracurricular activities. California, which already has strict vaccine requirements for students, is mulling the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to that list.

“For provinces that don’t have vaccine mandate policies, to start a conversation about vaccine mandates at a time where emotions are very heightened around vaccination is a risky endeavour,” said public health researcher Devon Greyson.

Greyson, an assistant professor of health communication at the University of British Columbia, has studied the efficacy of childhood vaccine mandates. They found that while uptake does increase, the boost can’t be solely attributed to mandates. Better communication, access and reporting systems also played a role.

In fact, in some jurisdictions, mandates did more harm than good by pushing some people away from vaccination, Greyson says.

“I recommend first really trying to build confidence in the population and make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated before considering a policy that has potentially negative consequences on children or parents,” they said.

A children’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic is set up at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, on Dec. 21, 2021. About five per cent of five- to 11-year-old children in Canada have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

No provincial or territorial governments have announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools, but jurisdictions such as Ontario and New Brunswick already require vaccinations for certain preventable diseases in students entering the public school system. 

Legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for N.B. schoolchildren was proposed in 2020, but was defeated. “There are varied opinions, and very strong opinions,” Premier Blaine Higgs, who voted in favour of the change, said earlier this month on CBC’s Power & Politics.

Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious diseases expert who counsels vaccine-hesitant parents, says that with lower vaccine uptake among five- to 11-year-olds — and children returning to classrooms — there’s an urgency get them vaccinated as soon as possible. But she stopped short of calling for a mandate.

While Constantinescu believes that a vaccine mandate could be effective she pointed out some children risk being kept out of the classroom as a result of such a policy.

Only about five per cent of children ages five to 11 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern over the low vaccination rate on Wednesday, saying that it puts society’s most vulnerable people at greater risk.

WATCH | Experts weigh in on hesitation around vaccinations for kids:

Experts explain slower vaccine uptake among children

2 days ago

Duration 1:44

Ève Dubé, a INSPQ medical anthropologist, and Dr Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist, weigh in on why some parents are still hesitant to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19. 1:44

Access remains a key issue

In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required for students to attend school in-person. The policy will be enforced after the federal government approves the vaccines, and the state will grant exemptions for medical reasons, plus religious and personal beliefs. 

Some school districts have already enacted mandates in the state.

Young children are particularly good at spreading respiratory illnesses — and that’s likely the case for COVID-19 as well, according to Annette Reagan, adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in California. 

People wait to get their children vaccinated at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal. Dr. Cora Constantinescu says that providing greater access to vaccines could help improve the vaccination rate among five- to 11-year-olds. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

She says that justifies the addition of COVID-19 vaccines to existing mandates.

“Increasing vaccination rates and stopping transmission in younger children is a good thing for our community, but it comes with the mandates,” said Reagan, noting that such policies limit parental autonomy.

The reasons behind low uptake among the pediatric group in Canada are varied, according to Greyson, but might be explained by timing and limited access to clinics.

Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved by Health Canada for the five to 11 cohort in late November — just weeks before the holidays when non-emergency medical appointments tend to slow down. 

Pediatric vaccine doses may also be less widely accessible compared to adult doses, said Constantinescu, making it more difficult for parents to get their kids immunized.

“The low-hanging fruit of vaccine uptake is always access,” said Constantinescu. “We have not made this as easily accessible as we could have.”

Constantinescu believes, however, that the narrative children experience more “mild” illness when they contract COVID-19 is a key factor behind the low vaccination rate — a message that parents should reconsider.

“We pray and hope that it’s just going to be a mild illness in most kids. That would be fantastic and I sure hope that, but we don’t know,” she said. 

“What we do know is that the vaccine is safe and we have enough supply.”

‘It’s in the best interest of your child’

Perhaps the most significant risk that comes with vaccine mandates, however, is the potential for children with vaccine-hesitant parents to miss out on in-person learning. 

Constantinescu argues that some children may not get the protection provided by vaccination or the benefits of learning in person.

With new evidence that negative side effects, such as myocarditis, are rare in the five to 11 bracket, she says now is the time to “shout from the rooftops” that vaccinating against COVID-19 is safe.

“This is the top vaccine-preventable threat to our children and we have a safe vaccine,” she said.

“We need to tell parents this is about protecting your child, first and foremost. It’s not about saving the pandemic, it’s not about saving the world.”

“This is because it’s in the best interest of your child.”


Written by Jason Vermes with files from Ashley Fraser, CBC News and The Associated Press.

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Nova Scotia reports 11 people in ICU Saturday, total of 287 people in hospital with COVID-19 – CTV News Atlantic

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In a news release Saturday afternoon, health officials in Nova Scotia said 82 people were admitted to hospital and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit. 11 people were reported to be in intensive care.

According to the province, the age range of those in hospital is 23-100 years old, and the average age is 67.

Of the 82 people receiving specialized care for COVID-19 in hospital, 79 were admitted during the Omicron wave.

There are also two other groups of people in hospital related to COVID-19:

  • 84 people who were identified as positive upon arrival at hospital but were admitted for another medical reason, or were admitted for COVID-19 but no longer require specialized care.
  • 121 people who contracted COVID-19 after being admitted to hospital.

The number of COVID-19 admits and discharges to hospital was not available Saturday.

On Jan. 21, the Nova Scotia Health Authority labs completed 3,682 tests.

According to a news release, an additional 502 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being reported.

Of the new cases; 219 are in the Central Zone, 88 are in the Eastern Zone, 59 are in the Northern Zone and 136 new cases are in the Western Zone.

Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency. Provincial officials first declared a state of emergency on March 22, 2020 and it has now been extended to February 6, 2022.

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