Doctor Holding Coronavirus Vaccine Syringe

Updated Efficacy Levels in Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

The coronavirus vaccine rollout is well underway for many countries around the world. After an applauded record development of several coronavirus vaccinations, developers are still monitoring vaccination data as they are distributed worldwide. This is a variety of reasons – to monitor safety and side effects, immunity response, understand the vaccine’s impact on groups of people and so forth. As the vaccine is rolled out to larger groups of people, developers will continue to evaluate update their efficacy claims simply due to the greater amount of data available. 

Efficacy refers to the percentage reduction of disease in a vaccinated group of people compared to an unvaccinated group. Each vaccine had to go through several stages of development before they were approved as safe for wider use and rollout, one of the final trials are usually on thousands of volunteers, which gives a preliminary efficacy value. However, as the vaccine is given to millions, this percentage may change. Many vaccinations, including the Pfizer-BioNTech shot were approved in late 2020, and as we move through 2021, developers are releasing new efficacy details. 

As the vaccination was rolled out quickly due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, scientists and developers do not yet have a conclusive understanding of how long immunity against COVID-19 lasts with the vaccination, nor whether those who are vaccinated can still be carriers.

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In the case of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccination, a trial has found that its vaccination protects against systematic COVID for up to six months. The Guardian wrote: ‘In a statement released on Thursday, the companies reported efficacy of 91.3% against any symptoms of the disease in participants assessed up to six months after their second shot.

The level of protection is only marginally lower than the 95% achieved soon after vaccination. The findings are the first to demonstrate that the vaccine remains effective for many months, an outcome that doctors and scientists had desperately hoped for because it suggests that people being vaccinated now should be protected at least until the autumn when boosters may be ready.’

The Pfizer BioNTech vaccination’s effectiveness varies between age groups. According to The Observer, the company has been trialing its effectiveness on younger age groups, ‘Pfizer and BioNTech said new phase 3 trial data has shown that their mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine BNT162b2 is 100 percent effective and well-tolerated in youths ages 12 to 15.’ The vaccines overall effectiveness is apparently 94% for those 65 and older and 95% for those aged 16 and older. 

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccination was completed late last year and has already been approved and rolled out across the UK and Europe.  Its original levels of efficacy were lower than Pfizer, but its levels were still beneficial, with the added bonus that this vaccination could be stored more easily than the RNA Pfizer-BioNTech version.

However, it has hit a few road bumps during rollout. This vaccine has not yet been approved in the USA, and has, until recently been undergoing trials.  A press release released on the 22nd of March claimed that preliminary analysis found the vaccine to be 79% effective, in trial of over 32,000 people in the United States, Chile and Peru.

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However, this claim was questioned, the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) were concerned that this was outdated information. Nature reported that now, ‘a key phase III clinical trial found the vaccine to be 76% effective at preventing COVID-19, the company announced on 25 March, two days after it was accused of misrepresenting interim results, which reported a slightly higher efficacy of 79%. Scientists hope the kerfuffle will not cause lasting damage to the vaccine’s reputation, which could be bolstered by scrutiny — and likely approval — by US drug regulators.’ Adding that ‘the difference between 76% and 79% efficacy is “tiny, and to be expected with the number of cases analyzed”, said Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable-disease control, in a statement to the UK Science Media Centre.’

On the US vaccine trial, the BBC reported: “the Anglo-Swedish firm has now adjusted the efficacy rate of its vaccine from 79% to 76%. Further data from the US trial showed efficacy among the over 65s rose from 80% to 85%. AstraZeneca said it now looked forward to getting US regulatory approval.

The company said the trial results confirm the vaccine “is highly effective in adults” and it remains 100% effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.” The Astra Zeneca website also added, in February, that trial ‘analysis also showed the potential for the vaccine to reduce asymptomatic transmission of the virus, based on weekly swabs obtained from volunteers in the UK trial.’

Covid Masks

Coronavirus Third Wave in Europe

Despite vaccination programs being well underway, a third wave of coronavirus infections is spreading across Europe. The wave has caused many European countries to extend or impose new lockdown measures again for its citizens. The wave has been pinpointed to the variant first found in Britain, which triggered its own series of lockdowns late last year, which is currently still in effect. 

The Guardian reported: ‘The variant first found in Britain is spreading significantly in at least 27 European countries and is now dominant in Denmark, Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, according to the World Health Organization.

Up to 50% more transmissible than the original virus, it may also be more deadly. “The spread of the variants is driving the increase,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said last week. “But so is the opening of society when it is not done in a safe and a controlled manner.”’

Germany

Germany, whose weekly infection rate rose from the mid-60’s to 107 cases (per 100,000) on the 22nd March, has now extended its current partial lockdown and imposed new restrictions until the 18th of April at the very least. Germany recently reopened its schools and allowed some shops and hairdressers to resume trade. Air travelers to Germany will also now be required to be tested for COVID-19 before boarding flights, those returning to Germany may be quarantined, private gatherings are expected to be limited, schools may be closed again, homemade masks are no longer considered acceptable, instead clinical masks are required. According to Sky News: ‘In terms of vaccinations, about 9% of the population has received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine and 4% have had both. Germany has so far seen nearly 2.7 million cases of COVID-19, and almost 75,000 deaths.’

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France 

France has closed non-essential shops, restricted travel and imposed a 7pm curfew, again imposing another lockdown.  As of the 21st of March, there were 4,353 people in intensive care with serious cases of COVID-19, the highest number yet this year, at the same time more than 35,000 new cases were reported. The country recently paused its vaccination program due to concerns about the health risks of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccination (which has now been confirmed as safe by European Authorities). The country has now restarted its vaccination program however many French Citizens still believe the vaccination to be unsafe. 

The Guardian wrote: ‘Lasting for at least four weeks, the measures are less strict than previous lockdowns and some experts have questioned whether they will be sufficient. Hairdressers, bookshops and florists can stay open and people are allowed to exercise outdoors as often as they like during the day within 10km (6 miles) of their home.’ Adding later ‘A study by the Pasteur Institute this month showed contamination at work accounted for 15% of new cases. “We are adopting a third way, a way that should allow us to rein in the pandemic without locking people up,” Castex said.’

Italy

Daily cases in Italy have almost doubled since January which saw a weekly average of 12,000, but is now over 22,000 in the third week of March. Tougher new restrictions have been imposed from the 15th of March from Italys Prime Minster. Much of the country has been places in a ‘Red’ category, which means that bars, restaurants and schools have been closed. The whole country will enter the ‘red’ category in early April, between 3-5th. People will be required to stay at home for anything other than essential reasons, work and health. 

The government had promised to vaccinate all over 80 by March, but was unable to amidst organizational issues and vaccination supply issues. Sky News reported: ‘So far, Italy has seen more than 3,300,000 cases of COVID-19, and over 104,942 deaths – the sixth-highest tally in the world and second in Europe. Like Germany and France, Italy has also made the decision to restart its vaccine programs with the AstraZeneca jab.’

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Greece

One of the countries campaigning for the introduction of a vaccine passport system in order to re-open its heavily relied upon tourism industry. However, Sky News wrote: ‘an open travel corridor between Greece and the UK last year – with no requirement to quarantine on return – has been blamed for significantly spreading the virus in a Public Health England study published this week.’ Schools will remain closed, non-essential shops will also close in some areas, people are not allowed to travel outside of their area of residence, and curfews during the week and weekends are imposed. According to the Guardian ‘Athens accounts for roughly half of new Covid cases detected in Greece each day, which have soared to a weekly average of about 2,400 from 450 in late January.’

Several more countries across Europe, such as Poland, the Netherlands have also extended lockdowns, closed shops and venues and imposed further restrictions to combat the third wave. The UK, has not yet been hit by the third wave, but the UK government is expecting it to reach it’s shores as well.

Clean Environment Concept

America’s National Science Academy Proposes $100 Million Geoengineering Research Program 

The nation’s national science academy recently claimed that the US should establish a multi-million-dollar research program specifically for looking into solar geoengineering. The group recently released a report that recommends the country put between $100-200 million into a five year program that would work to understand the “feasibility of interventions to dim the sun, the risk of harmful unintended consequences, and how such technology could be governed in an ethical way.”

The National Academies of Science (NAS) said that cutting fossil fuels emissions should be the nation’s number one priority when it comes to tackling climate change. However, the lack of action from our world leaders within the past decade has created an even more damaged environment to improve. 

The report claims that there are three types of solar geoengineering that would help heat escape the Earth’s atmosphere and thus cool the planet overall: “injecting tiny reflective particles into the stratosphere to block sunlight; using the particles to make low-lying clouds over the oceans more reflective; and thinning high-altitude cirrus clouds. Major volcanic eruptions are already known to cool the climate by pumping particles high into the atmosphere.

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Geoengineers are already arguing that the impact of climate change is already so large that every option must be explored if the Earth wants any chance at surviving the next century. Professor Marcia McNutt is the president of the Academy who recently spoke to the media about the importance of this overdue research. 

“Given the urgency of the climate crisis, solar geoengineering needs to be studied further. But just as with advances in fields such as artificial intelligence or gene editing, science needs to engage the public to ask not just can we, but should we? Questions of governance – who will decide to deploy this intervention and for how long – were as important as the scientific questions.”

Professor Chris Field of Stanford University was the chair of the committee that wrote the report, who claimed that “the US solar geoengineering program should be all about helping society make more informed decisions regarding the planet.”

“Based on all of the evidence from social science, natural science, and technology, this research program could either indicate that solar geoengineering should not be considered further, or conclude that it warrants additional effort.”

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The report claimed that “a reasonable initial investment for this solar geoengineering research program is within a range of $100-200 million total over five years. The program would be a small fraction of the US budget for climate change research and should not shift the focus from other projects.”

“The program should be designed to move forward in a socially responsible manner with researchers following a code of conduct, research catalogued in a public registry, and public engagement undertaken. Outdoor experiments should be subject to appropriate governance including impact assessments,” according to the report. 

The academy claims that the program should also include scientific research regarding the possible climate outcomes that geoengineering could have on society and its many ecosystems. “Social dimensions cited for research included domestic and international conflict and cooperation, and justice, ethics, and equity.”

Professor Gernot Wagner of New York University said: “The report’s focus on research and research governance is important for one simple reason: the current discussion is – and should be – all about research into solar geoengineering, certainly not about deploying the technology, where, if anything, a firm moratorium would be appropriate.”

Covid Studies

Taking the COVID-19 Vaccine and Its Side Effects

As vaccination rollouts are underway across the world, more and more people will have the chance to take the inoculation against COVID-19. After over a year of the global coronavirus pandemic, the successful development of the jab seemed like a glimmer of hope for the world. However, with the vaccination being fairly new, it can be a daunting undertaking for many. Further, as there are several different reports and a lot of information out there, it can be rather overwhelming to prepare yourself for what is involved. 

The COVID-19 jab is a vaccine. The World Health organization defines a vaccination as thus: ‘Vaccines save millions of lives each year. Vaccines work by training and preparing the body’s natural defenses – the immune system – to recognize and fight off the viruses and bacteria they target. After vaccination, if the body is later exposed to those disease-causing germs, the body is immediately ready to destroy them, preventing illness.’

The full inoculation for COVID-19 takes two injections in your upper arm, the injections are given separately, the second being administered three to twelve weeks after the first one is done. The length in between doses is dependent on the country in which you reside and their vaccination program, the UK for example is giving the second jab up to twelve weeks later in order to administer the first for as many people as possible. The reason why the vaccination is given in two doses is to allow for the immune system to generate the strongest response.

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Like most vaccinations, there may be some small side-effects from the inoculation, which include a soreness where the vaccine is injected, fatigue, headaches and muscle soreness. Side effects will vary from person to person are normally a sign that the vaccine is prompting your body to conjure an immune response and can indicate that the vaccine is working.

They are caused by the release of natural chemicals called cytokines and chemokines in the body which signal to the immune system that a response is needed. Although there is not a clear correlation between side-effects and immune system response, they are expected as part of the process. 

Several vaccines have been approved, in the USA, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has thus far approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna Vaccine, and the Janssen Vaccine. The approved vaccines are continually monitored for safety after the vaccine is approved, approval is given after their safety is tested in large trials of tens of thousands of people. The Guardian recently reported the side effects gathered from FDA clinical trial data. In the case of the Moderna Vaccine The Guardian, ‘used results from the vaccine’s trials to describe how likely it is for people aged 18 to 64 to experience a given side-effect within one week of a dose of the vaccine. On average, these symptoms cleared up within three days, and often less.’

It showed that on average, the Moderna vaccine’s main side-effect in the first dose, was pain at the injection site, with an average of 86.9% of people experiencing it.

After which, Fatigue (38.5%), Headache (35.4) Muscle soreness (35.4) and Joint pain at 16.6%. Following this other side effects included; enlarged glands, nausea and vomiting, chills, swelling, skin redness and fever, which all fell below 12% decreasing respectively to the fever side effect at 0.9%. Dose two saw many of these side-effects again at a slightly increased likelihood. 

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On the Pfizer vaccine results, The Guardian outlined ‘Unlike Moderna, Pfizer studied side-effects in two separate age groups: people between aged 16 and 55, and people older than 55. Because people older than 55 are slightly less likely to experience side-effects, the younger group is presented here.’ The side effects were: Pain where the vaccine was injected (83.1%), Fatigue (47.4%), Headache (41.9%), New/Worse muscle pain (21.3%), Chills (14%), Diarrhea (11.1%), New/worse joint pain (11%), Swelling (5.8%), Skin redness (4.5%) Fever (3.7%) and Vomiting (1.2%). Again, similar results showed with the second dose, increasing or decreasing slightly. 

In the UK, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have approval in the UK, alongside the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination which is yet to be approved in the USA, but is being used in many other countries. The Oxford vaccine is a traditional vaccination, different from the newer RNA technology that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines utilize. 

The side effects of the Oxford vaccine, listed by the UK government, are either very common – more than 1 in 10 (tenderness, pain, warmth, itching or bruising where the injection is given, generally feeling unwell, feeling tired (fatigue), chills or feeling feverish, headache, feeling sick (nausea), joint pain or muscle ache.); common – up to 1 in 10 (swelling, redness or a lump at the injection site, fever, being sick (vomiting) or diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, such as high temperature, sore throat, runny nose, cough and chills); or uncommon up to 1 in 100 (feeling dizzy, decreased appetite, abdominal pain, enlarged lymph nodes, excessive sweating, itchy skin or rash). 

Endometriosis Awareness Month, Are New Treatments in the Works?

The month of March is endometriosis awareness month and is observed worldwide via raising awareness, whether fundraising, educating or events. Endometriosis is a debilitating condition that affects around 1 in 10 women in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Approximately 200 million persons worldwide are affected by the condition. At the moment, there is no cure for the condition, only ways to ease the symptoms and diagnosis times range between an average of 8-10 years, despite it being one of the most common gynecological conditions. Many have pointed to the historical lack of research into female-centric conditions as rooted in the problematic gender health gap. Campaigners have argued that Endometriosis research is chronically underfunded. However, there is some new research being done into new treatments. 

Endometriosis is a condition that causes heavy and painful periods, fatigue, pain during sex, pain when going to the toilet and even problems with fertility. It is debilitating, often affecting all areas of a person’s life including their mental health and ability to work. Endometriosis occurs when the cells (endometrial cells) that line the womb appear elsewhere in the body. The cells still break down like those in the womb according to the menstrual cycle and therefore bleed during a monthly period – but as there is nowhere for the blood to go, this trapped causes extreme pain and the build-up of scar tissue. 

Current treatment plans include, keyhole surgery to cut away at the tissue, hormone treatments such as the contraceptive pill or Mirena Coil to limit the build-up of the womb lining or limit periods, or pain relief to treat the symptoms. In extreme cases some opt for hysterectomies. 

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The University of Edinburgh is currently looking at the effects of dichloroacetate – a drug used to treat rare metabolic conditions in children. Dichloroacetate helps to control lactate levels which are found to be higher in some patients with endometriosis. Unlike other drugs to treat the condition – it is non-hormonal. Hormonal drugs such as birth control pill can affect different patients in a variety of ways, causing an array of unwanted side effects, it often takes endometriosis patients a long time to find the best fit.

Further, some women may want to try for a baby so contraceptives not plausible. The trial is currently spanning twelve weeks and involves 30 women, but has apparently seen positive results and is hoping to receive enough funding to expand to 400 volunteers.  

Another study from the University of Oxford is looking at the genetics of the condition. The BBC reported:

‘For the past three years, Prof Krina Zondervan and her team have been analyzing tissue samples donated by 60,000 patients with endometriosis around the world. It’s the largest study of its kind ever undertaken. Their soon-to-be published work reveals new details about endometriosis, including confirmation that it is not one single condition. They have also uncovered genetic links to other inflammatory conditions such as asthma and osteoarthritis, and pain conditions such as migraines and back pain.

Prof Zondervan says they hope the understanding will mean they can investigate whether drugs currently used for those conditions could be repurposed to treat endometriosis: “And that will really speed up the process of drug discovery.” In simple terms, now that a link has been discovered, a drug used to treat asthma could be tweaked to treat endometriosis. That process would be a lot quicker than building a drug from scratch.’

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More research projects are hoped to be highlighted in papers published from the World Congress on Endometriosis taking place between the 6th to the 10th of March.  

Raising awareness around conditions such as endometriosis is important, as periods for young girls and women are still so often taboo. Therefore, those suffering with heavy periods and severe pain often believe It is normal for a long time. Employers are often not aware or sympathetic to the condition, and therefore women often try to get on with it rather than seeking the help that they need. Some girls will even skip school as a result of pain.

By starting a conversation, more women might be able to recognize the symptoms and get the help they need earlier on in the condition. 

Further, campaigns from various organizations and charities such as Endofound (Endometriosis Foundation of America) in the US, the Endometriosis Association globally, and Endometriosis UK in the United Kingdom have been campaigning to increase awareness, fund research, facilitate training and care both inside the medical community and out – calling on their respective governments to do more for women’s care. 

All Oklahoma Residents Can Now Get The Covid-19 Vaccine Thanks To Several Native Tribes

All residents in the state of Oklahoma are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccines due to the efforts of several Native tribes. Last week, the Chickasaw Nation opened up all of its available Covid-19 vaccine appointments to all Oklahoma residents, regardless of whether or not they were a fellow member of the tribe or not. 

Other tribes that are located in Oklahoma have expanded their vaccinations as well to reach residents beyond just those within the tribe. “The Osage, Choctaw and Citizen Potawatomi Nations are offering vaccines to all members of the public, while the Cherokee Nation has opened appointments to anyone residing within its 14-county jurisdiction,” according to CNN. 

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The state of Oklahoma in general is currently in Phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan, the criteria of which covers a wide variety of residents including healthcare workers, first responders, residents 65 and older, those with medical conditions, teachers and school staff, students 16 and older, people in congregate settings, public health staff, government officials and essential workers. The Oklahoma state government has to enter into Phase 4 of its plan before it prioritizes vaccinating everyone like the Native tribes are. 

Tribal nations in Oklahoma received a multitude of vaccines from the Indian Health Service. As the vaccination process continued these tribes demonstrated an efficient ability to get shots distributed quickly, so they began receiving more and more, allowing them to expand their efforts beyond their own tribes. 

Dr. John Krueger is the chief medical officer for the Chickasaw Nation who recently spoke with the media to credit his tribe’s “robust infrastructure” for its ability to distribute vaccines to non-Native members quickly and effectively.

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“The Chickasaw Nation recently opened a new facility in the city of Ada with 16 drive-thru lines, dramatically increasing our capacity. We also have three other vaccination sites as well as a team that travels to people’s homes. Now that those in our Nation’s priority groups have been offered vaccines, the tribe is able to move on to those outside the tribe. We are a part of these communities, and they are a part of us. The faster we can get all of us back to essential protection, the better it is for us and the better it is for everyone,” Krueger explained. The Chickasaw Nation has administered more than 30,000 vaccines.

The Choctaw Nation also attributes their success in expanding who they vaccinate to an efficient first phase of distribution that quickly got all priority groups vaccinated when they needed to be. According to Captain Clinton Bullock, director of pharmacy for the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center, “It’s not necessarily an issue of supply outpacing demand, rather, the tribe is capitalizing on the resources offered by the Indian Health Service to help protect the rest of the state. There are, of course, non-Native members of the community that our tribal citizens come in contact with. Helping to develop this herd immunity not only benefits the tribal members, but the community as a whole.” The Choctaw Nation has administered over 20,000 vaccines according to Bullock. 

Many tribal health providers have outpaced the rest of the country as a whole in distributing the vaccine. This is mainly due to the fact that a lot of these tribes independently receive their vaccine allotments from the Indian Health Service, as opposed to the state health department, which has helped them get priority individuals vaccinated faster, so that the rest of the state could also catch up.

Planet Earth

Study Predicts That There Is One Billion Years Of Oxygen Left On Earth

Oxygen is a highly reactive element responsible for the thriving and diverse life on earth essential for not only human life but the life of all living organisms on earth. Our oxygen-rich planet was not always so – according to scientists, the Earth formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago and was once home to a toxic atmosphere, presumably made up of gasses such as methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide.

Scientists believe that around 2.7 – 2.8 billion years ago Oxygen was first released into the atmosphere and early photosynthetic microorganisms were able to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen. After sometime, oxygen became a significant component of Earth’s atmosphere, paving the way for life. Today Earth’s atmosphere is made up of around 21 percent of oxygen and 78 percent Nitrogen. New research posits that Earth’s atmosphere will remain high in oxygen levels for the next billion years before returning to levels similar to those before the Oxidation of planet Earth, approximately 2.4 billion years ago.

Researchers from Toho University and NASA Nexus for Exoplanet System Science have now predicted scientific via stimulation that the Earth will lose its oxygen-based atmosphere in 1 billion years. The research was recently published in Nature Geoscience under the paper title: ‘The future lifespan of Earth’s oxygenated atmosphere’.  Stating in their abstract that: ‘Earth’s modern atmosphere is highly oxygenated and is a remotely detectable signal of its surface biosphere. However, the lifespan of oxygen-based biosignatures in Earth’s atmosphere remains uncertain, particularly for the distant future. Here we use a combined biogeochemistry and climate model to examine the likely timescale of oxygen-rich atmospheric conditions on Earth.’

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Scientists have long agreed that life on Earth would eventually come to an end and theories largely rested on the ageing sun, which will grow steadily hotter. With this increased heat, earths oceans will begin to evaporate and the atmosphere will change, depleting the ozone layer. At some point, the sun will die, destroying itself and its closer planets, including Earth. 

By modelling Earth’s climatic, biological and geological systems, Kazumi Ozaki at Toho University in Funabashi, Japan, and Chris Reinhard at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, predicted how these changes would occur and when. As the sun ages and becomes hotter, it will lead to a decrease in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is due to the fact that CO2 absorbs heat and then breaks down. Due to the lower levels of CO2, organisms such as plants which require photosynthesis to survive will slowly dwindle. As photosynthesis is a primary producer of oxygen, O2 levels will drop rapidly. The drop, is estimated by Reinhard and Ozaki as approximately a million times less than there is in the atmosphere today. Further, this will coincide with an increase in methane levels as high as 10,000 times the amount in the atmosphere today. 

Ozaki explained in a statement: “For many years, the lifespan of Earth’s biosphere has been discussed based on scientific knowledge about the steadily brightening of the sun and global carbonate-silicate geochemical cycle… One of the corollaries of such a theoretical framework is a continuous decline in atmospheric CO2 levels and global warming on geological timescales. Indeed, it is generally thought that Earth’s biosphere will come to an end in the next 2 billion years due to the combination of overheating and CO2 scarcity for photosynthesis, if true, one can expect that atmospheric O2 levels will also eventually decreases in the distant future. However, it remains unclear exactly when and how this will occur.”

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After these changes occur, life on earth will be microbial, terrestrial and aquatic life unable to survive in the new conditions. Reinhard stated: “A world where many of the anaerobic and primitive bacteria are currently hiding in the shadows will, again, take over.”

The research was conducted as part of a NASA project looking at planet habitability, and has implications into life on other planets. New Scientist reported that ‘Oxygen-containing biosignatures are typically used to identify habitable planets.’ But this research now shows that oxygen presence could be variable and subject to change. Kevin Ortiz Ceballos at the University of Puerto Rico said to New Scientist that not detecting oxygen no longer means that the planet is uninhabitable, stating: “It suggests that even for planets around other stars that are very similar to Earth, large amounts of oxygen may not be detected in their atmosphere, even if they can support, or have supported, complex life.”

These predicted changes are the natural evolution of earth, taking place over the next billion years and are separate to the human-driven climate change problems we are facing and still need to tackle today. 

Alaska Becomes First State To Allow Everyone Over 16 To Be Vaccinated 

Alaska has become the first state in the US to allow Covid-19 vaccines to any adult who wants one, as well as individuals over the age of 16, according to Governor Mike Dunleavy, who took to Twitter this week to make the announcement. 

“Effective immediately, Alaska will become the first state in the nation to allow anyone over the age of 16 to get the Covid-19 vaccine. This marks a significant step forward in our efforts to put this virus behind us.” 

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In order to be eligible you must be living or working in Alaska. 16 is also  the lowest age authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for use of the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccine are currently approved for individuals 18 and older. With any vaccine further research always needs to be done in order for it to be approved for teenagers and children because their bodies are constantly developing and changing, so scientists need to ensure that the doses will be just as effective. 

Most states are still only vaccinating specific higher risk groups first, such as senior citizens, essential workers, and individuals with underlying medical conditions that put them at a greater risk of contracting the virus. 

“Nearly one year ago the first positive Covid-19 case arrived in Alaska. Today, our state – because of the undaunted efforts of Alaskans – is leading the nation in vaccination efforts.” 

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Governor Dunleavy initially opened up vaccines to anyone 55 and older in the beginning of March. That policy also included essential workers, such as teachers, agriculture workers, first responders, other healthcare workers, and the media. Individuals with underlying medical conditions have always been a priority as with the rest of the nation. 

Alaska was initially allocated with 288,000 vaccine doses and now about 170,993 people have received at least one of their two shots, and about 119,631 people are fully vaccinated, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the state has given the most total doses per 100,000 people in the country. With 41,376 doles out, it is one of just two states over 40,000 doses given per 100,000 people – along with New Mexico.” The state of Louisiana has also approved of the vaccine to be given to individuals 16 and older, however, the state is only allowing individuals that young to be vaccinated if they have underlying health conditions that put them at a greater risk. 

Alaska has been one of the luckiest states in the US throughout this pandemic with a total of around 60,000 confirmed cases and 291 deaths; the state is ranked number 46 in terms of states with the most cases. Vermont is the only other state that’s recorded fewer deaths as well. The increase in distribution of these vaccines is a great sign for Americans who are ready and hopeful that the world will start to return to a sense of normalcy within the next few months.

Air Pollution Towers

Study Finds Further Evidence That Air Pollution Increases the Risk of Infertility

A recent study which examined the danger of air pollution to the population has found that air pollution significantly increases the risk of infertility. The study was conducted in China, and analyzed over 10,000 couples. The study focused on the type of pollution which is considered to be the most harmful to human health – small particles in the air which are known to cause strokes, asthma and cancer. The results of the study now suggest that it could be partially responsible for fertility issues, finding that those living in areas with worse air quality were less likely to conceive. The study hopes to explain a recent rise in unexplained infertility.  

The study was published in Environment International, entitled, Association between exposure to airborne particulate matter less than 2.5 μm and human fecundity in China. If concluded that those exposed to higher levels of this small-particle pollution were noted to have a 20% increased likelihood risk of infertility. Infertility was defined as not becoming pregnant within a year of trying. The study did not determine how air pollution caused infertility but suspected that as air pollution can cause inflammation in the body, this could damage egg and sperm production. 

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The research found that over a year, women who were exposed to small particle pollution 10 micrograms per cubic meter higher had a 20% greater risk of infertility. The research found a 11 percent drop in fertility for every increase of 10 micrograms of small particle air pollution. The Guardian wrote: ‘the average pollution level for the Chinese couples was 57µg/m3. In London, UK, the average is about 13µg/m3. The results also showed that the proportion of women not becoming pregnant after 12 months of trying rose from 15% to 26% when comparing the quarter exposed to the lowest pollution with the quarter suffering the highest. The researchers took account of other factors including age, weight, income, smoking, alcohol drinking, and exercise levels.’

Qin Li, lead researcher on the study at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Peking University Third hospital in China, said to the Guardian,  

‘“Numerous studies have noted that air pollution is associated with lots of adverse pregnancy events… Approximately 30% of infertile couples have unexplained infertility,” Li and colleagues wrote, noting that age, weight and smoking were well-known factors. “[Our study] indicates that small-particle pollution could be an unignorable risk factor for infertility.”’

The study has been noted to be the first to look at the relationship between pollution and fertility in the general population. Li stating: “our study samples were recruited from the general population, so our findings may be more generalizable.” Previous studies have found a correlation between infertility and pollution as well. Between the years of 2001-2011, eight power plants were closed in California, resulting in an upswing in fertility rates. Researchers from the University of California at Berkeley came to the hypothesis that air pollution may be damaging to reproductive health. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health also reported that a study conducted by research fellow Audrey Gaskins found that ‘women undergoing in vitro fertilization who lived close to major roadways had a lower chance of a successful embryo implantation and live birth than those who lived farther from major roadways and heavy traffic pollution.’

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Popular Science reported at the time,  Joan Casey, a postdoctoral scholar in the School of Public Health at the University of California at Berkeley stating, “There’s growing evidence that there may be a relationship between air pollution and fertility… It’s really convincing that something might be going on.”

In 2019, New Scientist also reported on a study which based its findings on measurements of the anti-Mullerian hormone (or AMH) taken from 1318 women in Modena, Italy. This hormone is released by cells in the ovary and is believed to represent the number of eggs a woman has. Antonio La Marca at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy said: “Living in an area associated with high levels of air pollutants in our study increased the risk of severely reduced ovarian reserve by a factor of two or three.”

Another recent study, which assessed 632 women attending a fertility clinic in Massachusetts found a link between air pollution and decreased fertility levels, the study, entitled, Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter and Ovarian Reserve among Women from a Fertility Clinic, concluded: ‘among women from an infertility clinic, higher PM2.5 exposure was associated with lower ovarian reserve, raising concern that air pollution may accelerate reproductive aging.’

CDC Expected To Release New Guidelines For Vaccinated Americans 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to release new guidelines this week specifically for how vaccinated Americans can safely alter their behaviors and live their lives safely without endangering themselves or other individuals who are still waiting to be vaccinated. 

The recommendations are expected to tell vaccinated individuals that they can host small, at-home gatherings with other fully vaccinated individuals. Two senior White House officials involved in drafting these guidelines spoke with the press about these projected guidelines. 

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Fully vaccinated people will still be asked to wear masks and social distance in public until a greater herd immunity is met. It’s expected that these new guidelines will officially be released this Thursday. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently hinted at the possibility of new CDC rules during a press conference this week. 

“I use the example of a daughter coming in from out of town who is doubly vaccinated, and a husband and wife doubly vaccinated, and maybe a next-door neighbor who you know are doubly vaccinated. Small gatherings in the home of people, I think you can clearly feel that the risk — the relative risk — is so low that you would not have to wear a mask, that you could have a good social gathering within the home,” Fauci explained. 

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the director of the CDC who spoke at the same conference as Fauci and warned that vaccinated Americans still need to be vigilant when it comes to abiding by health and safety procedures in public. 

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“While we may have guidance at the individual level, as Dr. Fauci has suggested, I think we all need to keep our eye on the fact that we’re not out of the woods yet.” 

Average daily coronavirus cases have fallen by roughly 65% since the start of January, however, new cases are still steadily appearing at an average rate of about 70,000 per day. “If Americans suddenly decided that because cases are going down, they felt more comfortable eating inside at a restaurant or socializing outside their pods, we could potentially erase the reductions that have been made over the past few weeks,” Dr. Kate Langwig, an infectious-disease ecologist, said. 

For now, Walensky wants Americans to know that “the goal is not to sort of open up travel just because vaccinations are scaling up. Instead, the Biden administration has set its sights on making sure that we are in a place to be out of this pandemic within President Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office — roughly by the end of April. However, at 70,000 cases per day, we’re not in that place right now.”

“The setting in a home of a small group of people having dinner together, all of whom are vaccinated, is very different when you step out the door and go into a society that has 70,000 new infections per day,” Fauci said.