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Two-dose vaccines induce lower antibodies against Omicron, study finds

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Two-dose COVID-19 vaccine regimens do not induce enough neutralising antibodies against the Omicron coronavirus variant, British scientists found, indicating that increased infections in those previously infected or vaccinated may be likely.

Researchers from the University of Oxford published results on Monday from a study yet to be peer-reviewed, where they analysed blood samples from participants who were given doses from AstraZeneca-Oxford or Pfizer-BioNTech in a large study looking into mixing of vaccines.

The results come a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that two shots will not be enough to contain Omicron, following findings from the UK health agency last week that boosters significantly restore protection against the variant.

The Oxford study said that there was no evidence yet that the lower level of infection-fighting antibodies against Omicron could lead to higher risk of severe disease, hospitalisation or death in those who have got two doses of approved vaccines.

“These data are important but are only one part of the picture. They only look at neutralising antibodies after the second dose, but do not tell us about cellular immunity, and this will also be tested,” said Matthew Snape, Oxford professor and co-author of the paper.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Shailesh Kuber)

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Canadian hospitals strain as Omicron hits health workers

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After a year as an emergency department nurse at a busy Toronto hospital in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, Aimee Earhart called it quits last week. She is moving to Florida for a short contract before getting work as a travel nurse for what she hopes will be double the salary.

“We’re just burnt out all the time,” Earhart said. She says she will miss her colleagues, and might have stayed if working conditions were better.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its highly contagious Omicron variant have made a challenging staffing situation in Canada’s hospitals worse.

Interviews with a dozen health care workers, including eight current and former nurses, reveal a health system strained by a pandemic wave that hit at the worst possible time – sickness sidelining staff as more COVID-19 patients than ever need hospitalization, forcing health workers exhausted by two unrelenting years to take on more work.

Hospitals have been asking staff to forego holidays or take on overtime shifts.

Canadians take pride in their public health system. But by failing to adequately invest in it, critics say, governments left it vulnerable to the ravages of a years-long public health emergency. If health workers leave and are not replaced – thanks to training and certification backlogs, capped wages or the perception of a punishing profession – that could hurt health system capacity.

Job vacancies in Canada’s health and social assistance sector increased by 78.8% between the third quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2021, according to Statistics Canada.

Ontario’s government, which has come under fire for capping the salaries of some public employees, including nurses, before the pandemic, said in a statement it added 6,700 health care workers and staff since the pandemic began and planned to add another 6,000 by March. It did not clarify whether this was a net increase.

‘I JUST DIDN’T HAVE ANY MORE TO GIVE’

Lindsay Peltsch knew she had to quit when she stopped wanting to bathe her patients.

“I still did that but I didn’t get the same sense of satisfaction anymore,” she said. “It seems small but it’s a big deal because people’s dignity is a big part of what we do.”

Peltsch worked for 12 years as a pediatric nurse, 10 of them at SickKids hospital in Toronto. She fell in love with nursing but the strain became too much, she said.

Fully staffed shifts became a rarity. One of her last ER shifts was 10 nurses short. She also feels there is a lack of respect for the profession.

“I just got to a point where I just didn’t have any more to give.”

A SickKids spokesperson said that the hospital “has experienced challenges related to staffing” but was not aware of critical care unit shifts being short 10 nurses.

Praveen Nakesvaran and his respiratory therapist colleagues at Humber River Hospital have taken on roles normally filled by nurses when they prone COVID-19 patients – rolling them, tubes and all, gingerly onto their stomachs in hopes that will boost lung function.

“Usually we’re just at the head of the bed: We make sure the tube is secure,” Nakesvaran said. “Now we’re kind of doing the nursing jobs, as well.”

Suzi Laj an intensive care unit manager at the hospital says she knows morale has been an issue and has sought to address it through everything from daily huddles to bringing in chaplaincy staff. They are “trying to keep them hopeful and, you know, supporting them … but their resilience is really wearing,” she said.

Public health experts say Omicron’s peak may be approaching in Canada, and Ontario announced plans last week to loosen restrictions. But for now the health worker crunch remains.

Some provinces have made provisions for health care workers to return to work soon after testing positive for COVID-19; Ontario is letting internationally trained nurses, who often face hurdles and long waits before being able to practice in Canada, get on-the-job experience in hospitals.

Manitoba, meanwhile, said it will send hundreds of patients to get procedures in North Dakota because its hospitals lack capacity.

‘WE ARE NOT ASKING FOR AN EASIER JOB’

When one Montreal ER nurse came down with a bad case of laryngitis during a shift, she felt torn between staying at work to help her colleagues and going home to rest and wait for COVID-19 test results, she told Reuters.

The young nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of work reprisals, said she was encouraged to complete her shift since her co-workers badly needed the help.

“It was really more guilt than anything,” she said.

“You feel like you’re leaving those who are working in a really tough spot.”

Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, gets calls from nurses across the province wondering how they will cope. “All the hospital are scrambling.”

It translates, she said, to “unsafe care.”

When Peltsch talks to her former co-workers, “they’re like, ‘Don’t come back.’ … A resilient group of people is starting to crumble,” she said.

“We are not asking for an easier job. We are asking to be able to do the hard job we signed up for safely.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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COVID-19 on P.E.I.: What's happening the week of Jan. 23 – CBC.ca

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Two COVID-related deaths were announced over the weekend, raising the province’s total to six. P.E.I. also reported a death on Friday.

Teachers in training are learning how to work differently, now that it looks like remote classrooms will be sticking around for a while. 

Fitness and restaurant industry workers are only some of the people who are looking to apply for new COVID-19 aid programs now that their businesses are being shut down for at least two weeks.

Public exposure and flight notifications have been paused by the provincial government. Under current conditions, the province says all public places should be considered potential exposure sites.

As of Sunday morning, there were 2,484 active COVID-19 cases in P.E.I. There have been 6,125 since the pandemic began.

Elsewhere in Atlantic Canada

  • New Brunswick reported two deaths related to COVID-19 on Sunday. There were six deaths reported Saturday. There are 126 people in hospital with 10 in intensive care and six on ventilators.
  • Nova Scotia reported Sunday that 85 people are in designated COVID-19 hospital units, including 11 in intensive care. The province confirmed 503 new cases.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador said Sunday that 19 people are in hospital due to COVID-19. The province has 361 new cases and 2,656 active cases.

Top news from last week

Other helpful stories

The P.E.I. Vax Pass

The P.E.I. Vax Pass is now required at a number of businesses and events. Here’s a look at how to get the pass, and how it works.

Here’s a list of where you need to show proof of vaccination on P.E.I.

These Islanders are currently eligible for a vaccine

  • Anyone aged five and up.
  • Third shots are available for Islanders 18 and older, six months following their second shot.
  • Islanders can book an appointment to receive the vaccine at a pharmacy or a public health clinic.
  • You can find more information about how to get a vaccine here.

Further resources

Reminder about symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

  • New or worsening cough.
  • Fever and/or chills.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny nose, sneezing or congestion.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle, joint or body aches.
  • Feeling unwell or unusually tired.
  • Acute loss of sense of smell or taste.

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COVID-19 can wreak havoc on your body. So will it cause health issues decades down the road? – CBC News

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The illness once dubbed a “pneumonia of unknown cause” in the early days of 2020 has revealed itself to be something far more strange.

Two years into this pandemic, we now know COVID-19 can lead to a dizzying array of symptoms — from heart inflammation to brain fog to the loss of sense of smell or taste. Some people’s toes turn red; others go on to develop diabetes. SARS-CoV-2 also impacts various organs and sometimes causes long-lasting breathing problems, fatigue or chronic kidney impairment.

Time and research have shown that the virus has quite a knack for wreaking havoc on the human body under the right conditions. So what will that mean for the long-term health of millions of people who’ve been infected — months, years or even decades down the road?

“There are some ‘known’ unknowns, like what will the rate and duration of long COVID be for different individuals,” said Matthew Miller, an associate professor with McMaster University’s Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton.

“And then there are ‘unknown’ unknowns, like what might happen 30 or 50 years from now.”

Infections linked to diabetes, neurological issues

SARS-CoV-2’s ability to spread throughout the body is largely tied to the spike proteins on its surface, which bind to ACE2 — a protein on the surface of various types of human cells — like a key into a lock.

That means the virus can reach far beyond the respiratory tract, causing inflammation wherever it spreads.

“We’ve already shown this virus, even in the acute stage, does have impact on the brain and on our central organs like the heart, and pancreas and areas where other viral infections have caused longer-term inflammatory changes that have led to chronic disease,” said Dr. Cory Neudorf, the public health, health systems and social policy impacts pillar co-lead for CoVaRR-Net, a team of Canadian researchers who banded together during the pandemic.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we see more chronic diseases due to COVID in the years to come.”

Alongside the initial impacts of a SARS-CoV-2 infection which can send some people to hospital, the virus sometimes causes long-lasting breathing problems, fatigue or chronic kidney impairment. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

SARS-CoV-2 infections have been linked to the onset of juvenile diabetes, for instance.

A January report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that youth under the age of 18 were more likely to receive a new diabetes diagnosis a month or more post-infection than young people who didn’t have COVID-19 — and when compared with respiratory infections before the pandemic.

“These findings are consistent with previous research demonstrating an association between SARS-CoV-2 infection and diabetes in adults,” the report continued.

Other research has linked even mild cases of COVID-19 to long-term neurological symptoms. 

One recent U.S. study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved autopsy results from nine patients and from lab mice that were purposely infected with SARS-CoV-2.

“What we found was that the relatively mild, acute course of SARS-CoV-2 in this mouse model elicits prominent neuro-inflammation,” lead researcher Michelle Monje, a professor of neurology at Stanford University in California, said during an interview with CBC News.

The team suspects that could be what’s behind the “brain fog” described by some people following a bout of COVID-19, similar to what some people experience after having chemotherapy treatment.

Lingering symptoms can be ‘debilitating’

The feeling of post-infection brain fog, along with other lingering effects, is often referred to as long COVID — a phenomenon that’s well documented but still not fully understood.

Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist-clinician at the University Health Network in Toronto, has spent much of the pandemic working with long COVID sufferers as the co-lead investigator for the Canadian COVID-19 Prospective Cohort Study. Patients’ symptoms, she said, are all over the map — from extreme exhaustion to heart palpitations to sleep disruption.

“Some people have only a little bit, and they say, ‘Oh, my smell is not quite back,'” she said. “But some people have very debilitating symptoms to the point that they can’t do things, they have to lie in bed all day, they can’t maintain a job.”

Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist-clinician at the University Health Network in Toronto, has spent much of the pandemic working with long COVID sufferers as the co-lead investigator for the Canadian COVID-19 Prospective Cohort Study. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Miller, the researcher at McMaster, said he’s most concerned about those kinds of long-term health impacts that arise soon after infection and seem to persist for prolonged periods, “or perhaps even for life.”

“What I would not be particularly worried about is the likelihood that 10, 20 years from now, tons of people are going to experience some major chronic illness that is related to SARS-CoV-2 infections,” he said.

But even rare illnesses, in the context of a global pandemic, could become a substantial burden on the health-care system just by virtue of the sheer number of people getting infected all at once.

Lessons from 1918 pandemic impacts

That’s a lesson from the 1918 influenza pandemic, which sickened more than 500 million people — a third of the world’s population at the time — and had a dramatic impact on global health in the short term, including tens of millions of deaths.

That global health crisis was also linked to a more modest impact on survivors’ health later in life. One Swedish study, for instance, found that having exposure to the 1918 flu strain before birth, in the womb, may have resulted in higher rates of health issues and hospitalizations in adulthood.

Typically, later impacts are linked to genetic mutations that can predispose someone to a certain disease, Miller noted.

“An infection compounded on top of that genetic predisposition might be enough to tip the scale, so that person experiences a disease that they might not have experienced otherwise,” he said.

WATCH | Doctors strive to solve long COVID as patients struggle to recover: 

Doctors search to solve long COVID as patients fight to recover

2 months ago

Duration 6:14

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and health experts are searching to find a cause and treatment for long COVID, while patients are simply fighting for their recovery. 6:14

Miller also said one aspect of this virus, compared with many others, should be somewhat reassuring: Our bodies do seem to clear it out.

Unlike HIV, herpes viruses or varicella-zoster — the virus known for causing chickenpox in children and shingles later in life — SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t appear to stick around indefinitely like a ticking time bomb, which reduces the risk of severe health outcomes developing decades later.

Still, given all of the unknowns around this coronavirus and how little time has passed since it began spreading among humans, Miller said major questions remain over how infections will affect people down the line.

“The vast majority of people who get COVID have mild infection and survive,” he said. “But it doesn’t account for what might happen in the future as a result of those infections.”

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