The political and economic effects of COVID-19 on immigrant communities

Australia’s immigration industry was profoundly affected by the pandemic along with life for immigrants already living here, writes Dr Mehmet Aslan.

THE EARLY DAYS of the COVID-19 lockdown in March saw many immigrants and temporary visa holders experiencing extreme stress financially and emotionally. Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to the problems faced by temporary visa holders in a time of economic crisis caused by this dangerous, global epidemic.

He was quoted in The Conversation as stating that if visa holders could not support themselves, it was time to go home. He was responding to a major economic challenge. Many temporary visa holders replied that this would create extremely difficult conditions for them. The Government also excluded them from JobKeeper and JobSeeker. A great proportion of these temporary visa holders were students who had lost their part-time employment. This made it almost impossible for them to pay rent, bills and to purchase other basic necessities.

Australia has the OECD’s second-largest immigrant workforce. International education in Australia is a major industry worth almost $39 billion and is Australia’s fourth-largest export. Australia has a total of 2.17 million people on temporary visas.

There are some very concerning statistics regarding temporary visa holders.

A survey conducted in late March and early April found:

  • 65% lost their job;
  • 39%could not cover basic living expenses;
  • 43% missed regular meals; and
  • 34% became homeless or faced eviction.

The economic importance of immigration

Australia is extremely dependent on immigration to expand the economy and provide employment. Australia’s recent record of excellent economic growth has relied on high levels of immigration. A majority of immigrants on temporary visas have come from Asia and Oceania.  

It is an interesting fact that Australia has around half a million students on temporary visas. The economic contribution of these students is vital to Australia’s economy.

In evidence, Dr Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University, states:

“Migrants contribute to demand and supply sides of the economy and bolster the socioeconomic wellbeing of this nation in ways many don’t realise.”

According to Shane Wright, reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Government is forecasting a 30% lower number of immigrants coming to Australia in 2020 and this is expected to increase to around 85% lower in 2021. This expected drop in immigration is most likely to delay Australia’s economic recovery and increase unemployment.

Economic recovery post-COVID-19 looks dire without a healthy migrant population

Australia is a very successful multicultural society with around 10% of arrivals in the past ten years coming from overseas. In total, more than a quarter of our current population was born overseas and almost one in two have a parent born overseas. These immigrants have made important economic contributions to our economy with their need for housing, services and income generated by their employment.

Contrary to popular belief, migrants do not take local jobs. In fact, migrants work in areas where it is difficult for employers to find employees. Migrants also fill the demand for specific skills that are required by some sectors of the economy.

Any cuts to immigration will have negative consequences for economic growth.

Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of the immigration department, reports in The Guardian:

“The virus and the drop in net migration will combine to hit us very, very hard.”

He continues, noting that Australia’s migration program targets younger people and that these people will have more children in the future. Migration has made Australia a country with a low median age of 37. This relatively young median age is a positive factor for the economy as these young people contribute to our society.

Political and emotional effects

COVID-19 has resulted in drastic cuts to immigration. This has had damaging emotional effects on temporary and permanent visa holders. Temporary visa and permanent visa holders have had great emotional stress caused by loss of income.  

Permanent residents can no longer bring their family members to assist them in Australia. These visa holders cannot afford the limited flights available. This will prevent family reunions and any travel back to assist family. This contributes to problems with their emotional wellbeing.

Make no mistake: Migrants crucial to post-COVID-19 recovery

Immigrants from areas with great political instability and with severe economic problems can apply to come to Australia on the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV). A Monash University paper refers to the case of Adonay from Eretria where he has a SHEV but cannot reunite with his family.

Adonay states:

“The main thing that disturbs me that I can’t control is missing my family. Every day and every night, I think about them.”

Adonay’s situation is made more difficult by COVID-19 restrictions.

SHEV holders cannot travel and many are unemployed. They cannot apply for the Government’s Jobseeker program and this causes additional economic, social and mental health stress. Furthermore, economists have forecast rising unemployment rates in all categories among bridging, safe haven enterprise and temporary protection visa holders. These figures are expected to increase from 19.3% to 41%.

Even with Australia’s success in preventing the spread of COVID-19, there are still many restrictions in place for Australian citizens and immigrant visa holders. The risk of virus transmission to the broader Australian community is high and this is not a time for complacency. South Australia has had a very successful health program to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In spite of all the strict measures in place to eradicate the virus, there has been an alarming recent outbreak.

All the social problems associated with an outbreak are again apparent and need to be urgently addressed. Our immigrant communities are particularly at risk in a renewed outbreak of COVID-19.

Those disadvantaged social groups in the Australian economy are still at great risk, financially and emotionally. However, the current government is aware of these issues and promising to assist to ensure these groups are not forgotten. While the Australian economy is recovering slowly, only time will tell if enough is being done to protect those who are vulnerable.

Dr Mehmet Aslan is an Honorary Fellow, School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong. He received a PhD degree in Education Studies (Major) and Sociology (Minor), from Western Sydney University.

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Why much of what we’re told about the effects of taxes is off beam

Over time, movements in the price act as signals to both the buyers of the product and its sellers. A rise in the price tells buyers they should use the now more-expensive product less wastefully, and maybe start looking for some alternative product that’s almost as good but doesn’t cost as much. On the other hand, a fall in the price tells buyers to bog in.

To the sellers, however, the price signals sent by a price change are reversed. A price rise says: this product’s now more profitable, produce more; a fall in the price signals that supply is now less profitable, so produce less.

You can see how changes in the price act as an incentive for buyers and sellers to change their behaviour.

You see too how, following some disturbance, this “price mechanism” acts to return the market for the product to “equilibrium” – balance between the supply of it and the demand for it. It sets off what real scientists call a “negative feedback loop”: when prices rise, it acts to bring them back down by reducing demand and increasing supply; when prices fall, it brings them back up by reducing supply and increasing demand.

Note that all this is about changes in relative prices – the price of one product relative to the prices of others. It ignores inflation, which is a rise in the level of prices generally.

The way economists think, taxes are just another price. And there’s no topic where people worry more about the effect of incentives than taxes – particularly the effect of income tax on the incentive to work.

Consider this experiment, conducted in 2018 by two (married) economists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, with Stefanie Stantcheva of Harvard. Duflo and Banerjee were awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 2019.

The three surveyed 10,000 people from all over America, asking half of them questions about how people would react to several financial incentives. Half of these respondents said they expected at least some people to stop working in response to a rise in the tax rate, and 60 per cent expected people to work less.

Almost half of the 5000 respondents expected the introduction of a universal basic income of $US13,000 ($17,000) a year, with no strings attached, to lead people to stop working. And 60 per cent thought a Medicaid program (providing healthcare for people on low incomes) with no work requirement would discourage people from working.

But here’s the trick: the economists asked people in the other half of their 10,000 sample the same questions, but how they themselves would react, not how they thought other people would. Their responses were significantly different, with 72 per cent of them declaring that an increase in taxes would “not at all” lead them to stop working.

As Duflo and Banerjee summed it up in their book, Good Economics for Hard Times, and in an excerpt in the New York Times, “Everyone else responds to incentives, but I don’t”.


It’s possible those people could be deluding themselves – after all, most people believe they’re not influenced by advertising, when it’s clear advertising works – but in this case the hard evidence shows financial incentives aren’t nearly as influential as is widely assumed.

The first place to see this is among the rich. “No one seriously believes that salary caps lead top athletes to work less hard in the United States than they do in Europe, where there is no cap. Research shows that when top tax rates go up, tax evasion increases . . . but the rich don’t work less,” they say.

And we see it among the poor. “Notwithstanding all the talk about ‘welfare queens,’ [and the use our Morrison government has made of similar talk to justify keeping the JobSeeker dole payment low] 40 years of evidence shows that the poor do not stop working when welfare becomes more generous,” they say.

“When members of the Cherokee tribe started getting dividends from the casino on their land, which made them 50 per cent richer on average, there was no evidence that they worked less.”

It’s true that in many circumstances – but not something as deeply consequential as decisions about how much work to do – differences in prices will influence the choices people make. In a supermarket, for instance, many shoppers will reach for the cheaper jar of peanut butter.

But when we’re making decisions about bigger and more consequential issues – such as whether to work and how much of it to do – monetary incentives such as the rate of tax on it, go into the mix with a multitude of other, non-monetary incentives.

Such as? “Something we know in our guts: status, dignity, social connections. Chief executives and top athletes are driven by the desire to win and be the best. The poor will walk away from social benefits if they come with being treated like a criminal. And among the middle class, the fear of losing their sense of who they are,” Duflo and Banerjee conclude.

Why do economists so often make bad predictions and give bum advice? Because they keep forgetting that a model of economic behaviour that focuses so heavily on prices leaves out many other powerful incentives.

Ross Gittins is economics editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Alleviating side effects | Science

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and oxaliplatin, are commonly used to treat diverse cancer types. However, their use is limited by side effects, particularly vomiting, anorexia, muscle wasting, and weight loss. Breen et al. show that the amounts of the cytokine growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF15) increase in the circulation of patients with colorectal cancer, non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), and ovarian cancer who were treated with platinum chemotherapy. Moreover, the amount of circulating GDF15 was correlated with weight loss in metastatic colorectal cancer patients receiving oxaliplatin. Neutralization of GDF15 using monoclonal antibodies in nonhuman primates treated with cisplatin attenuated vomiting and anorexia. GDF15 also reversed weight loss in mice with NSCLC treated with cisplatin. This work shows that GDF15 has a causal role in these side effects and could be targeted to enable optimal chemotherapy treatment.

Cell Metab. 32, 938 (2020).

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Thailand sees major drop in cost of living rankings following the effects of Covid-19

Thai and Vietnamese locations fell by at least ten places in the rankings this year as the pandemic hit local economies.

  • Thai locations dropped by at least ten places in this year’s global rankings, with Bangkok falling by 16 places to 39th in the world
  • Singapore falls to 14th most expensive location for overseas workers, overtaken by Danish and Swiss locations as the Singapore dollar weakens
  • Hong Kong remains the most expensive location for expatriates to live in, despite falling rental prices
  • Tokyo comes in second in the global rankings, with New York in third place

These are the key findings of the latest global Cost of Living research published by ECA International, the world’s leading provider of knowledge, information and software for the management and assignment of employees around the world. 

“Both the Thai baht and Vietnamese dong weakened significantly against other major currencies during the Covid-19 pandemic, partly due to a major blow to the tourism industry as fewer visitors travelled to the region. Rental costs also fell due to the weaker demand.

The only Thai city that remains in the global top 100 most expensive locations is Bangkok, but even the Thai capital fell 16 places in the rankings to 39th overall,” said Lee Quane, Regional Director – Asia at ECA International.

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Black market ‘medical’ cannabis has ‘unintended effects’

SELLING cannabis and saying it’s “medicinal” does not make it so.

This was the message a magistrate made clear to a Eureka man when he was sentenced for drug supply and possession before Byron Bay Local Court this week.

Andrew Richards, 55, from Eureka, had pleaded guilty to supplying cannabis oil, possessing cannabis in various forms and magic mushrooms and dealing with the proceeds of crime after police executed a search warrant at his home in July.

The court heard police found cannabis leaf, resin and oil at the home.

They found capsules containing cannabis oil in numbered, resealable bags.

According to court documents, he told police at the time he was “not a criminal” but supplied the drug for “medicinal purposes”.


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Defence solicitor John Weller said Richards had seen his mental health improve “once he stopped what he thought was the healing drug”.

Magistrate Karen Stafford said members of the community must not simply decide to be medical cannabis dispensaries.

“(For you) to supply them on a medical basis, it is still criminal behaviour,” she said.

Ms Stafford noted a recent Private Members Bill before NSW parliament calling for the legalisation of cannabis and related products.

“That has been rejected by the current government,” she said.

“You’re not the only person in this area who’s taken it upon themselves to become some sort of de facto supplier of medical cannabis.”



Magistrate Karen Stafford has told a Eureka man there can be serious risks of dealing black market “medical” cannabis.

She said there was “no medical background or expert overview” to what Richards was doing.

“Once you have been off drugs your mental health has improved,” Ms Stafford said.

“Where people in the community take it upon themselves to become these unqualified suppliers it really can have an effect on people to whom they’re supplying that wasn’t intended.

“There has to be a strong message to people in particular in this area: they must stop supplying ‘medical’ cannabis (or face) that unintended effect on the community which is a real risk.” 

Richards received a nine month intensive corrections order.

$3750 police found at his home was forfeited.

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Are there side effects to a COVID-19 vaccine? What are the ‘ingredients’? The cost? Answers to your vaccine questions

Are there side effects to a COVID-19 vaccine? What are the ‘ingredients’? The cost? Answers to your vaccine questions

Vaccine authorization in the U.S. could come as soon as this week, and distribution could potentially begin within 24 hours of authorization.

Two companies – Pfizer and Moderna – have applied for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their two-shot vaccine candidates, and more companies are expected to apply in the coming months. Meanwhile this week, Canada and the United Kingdom authorized the widespread use of Pfizer’s vaccine.

As vaccines are being produced in record time, what do we know about these shots? What are the side effects? Will you be immune? And will you have to take the vaccine once or every year?

We know you have questions, and we’re here to help. Ask us your vaccine questions through this online form, and we’ll speak with public health experts to answer them below.

Here’s what we know:

Is there a vaccine for the coronavirus?

There are more than 200 vaccine candidates under development, with 52 in clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization. As of late November, Phase 3 clinical trials were in progress or being planned for five vaccines in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The United Kingdom and Canada have authorized the use of a vaccine developed by drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech. China and Russia began rolling out their own vaccines before completing late-stage clinical trials.

Is the vaccine safe?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday released a 53-page report summarizing data from Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 candidate vaccine trial. The data supports earlier findings that the vaccine is safe and will prevent 95% of people from becoming sick with COVID-19. Read more.

Will the vaccine be safe for children and pregnant people?

Historically, major vaccines have not been tested during pregnancy because of concerns that both the pregnant person and fetus would be at risk for complications.

Pregnant and nursing people were not included in the Pfizer/BioNTech study, so there is no data to suggest whether they should avoid vaccination. In a Dec. 1 meeting of a CDC group that determines how vaccines should be allocated, several expert members said they expected the vaccine would be safe for mothers who are nursing because the virus itself does not seem to pass through the mother’s milk.

The Pfizer trial data only included children ages 16 and up, though the study has since been extended to age 12, and will include younger children as soon as the company decides what dose it wants to test in this group. Read more.

Related: No, the COVID-19 vaccine doesn’t cause infertility in womenmen

What are the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine?

Americans will likely experience at least one side effect from the COVID-19 vaccine, but doctors say that’s normal and you should still get vaccinated. For the vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech, many trial participants endured side effects for a day or two after getting their shots, particularly the second one.

The most commonly reported side effect among vaccine recipients under age 55 was a sore arm, followed by fatigue (60% after the second shot); headache (52% after the second shot); other muscle aches (37%); and chills (35%). About 28% took pain medication after the first shot and 45% after the second shot. Read more.

Can you get one dose from one vaccine and the second from another?

The Pfizer/BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines both require two doses, given 21 and 28 days apart, respectively. Since the vaccines differ in composition, storage and time between the two doses, experts say people must take the same vaccine for both doses.

What is the level of immunity after one shot?

The vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech was 52% effective after the first dose, according to a recent FDA report. However, because everyone received a second dose three weeks after the first, there’s no evidence of protection lasting longer than a few weeks after the first dose. Read more.

How long will a COVID-19 vaccine be protective?

There is no data on how long a vaccine will be protective. FDA officials were expected to authorize Pfizer’s vaccine in the midst of the pandemic because it is safe and at least transiently effective, rather than withholding it for two years to await the typical long-term results required for a full approval. Vaccine companies intend to follow trial participants for two years and submit a full application when they have that data. Read more.

Once you get vaccinated, can you still get sick or spread the virus?

Yes, it’s possible. The potential vaccines are not 100% effective, so there’s a small chance you could encounter the virus and still get sick. It also typically takes “a few weeks” for the body to build immunity after vaccination, meaning a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick, according to the CDC.

Even after vaccination, it’s not clear whether someone could catch the virus that causes COVID-19 and pass it on to someone else, even without becoming ill. The studies designed to test the candidate vaccines only examined symptomatic infections, not whether vaccinated people could still be contagious. This means that people who are vaccinated can be pretty sure that they won’t develop COVID-19 themselves, but they could still pass it on to others without knowing they are infected. Future studies will explore this. Read more.

Could the vaccine make subsequent infections worse?

There has been concern that getting vaccinated against the coronavirus might cause a subsequent COVID-19 infection, as some dengue vaccines have been shown to do for that disease.

The FDA concluded that use of the vaccine has not been widespread enough to know for certain, but that “available data do not indicate a risk of vaccine-enhanced disease, and conversely suggest effectiveness against severe disease within the available follow-up period.” The risk does remain over time as immunity against the disease wanes, the FDA said, and “needs to be evaluated further in ongoing clinical trials.” Read more.

Which vaccines will be only one shot?

Johnson & Johnson is developing a single-dose vaccine. The company’s chief scientist said last month that the company expects to have all the data it needs to file for authorization by February or sooner.

If you already had COVID-19, should you still get vaccinated?

People who have had COVID-19 “may be advised” to get the vaccine, “due to the severe health risks associated with COVID-19 and the fact that re-infection with COVID-19 is possible,” according to the CDC.

If you’ve had COVID-19 and recovered, you have what’s called natural immunity. Studies have shown natural immunity to COVID-19 may last months to years. Immunity from a vaccine is called vaccine-induced immunity, and it’s unclear how long that may last.

What are the COVID-19 vaccine ‘ingredients’?

None of the vaccines in development in the U.S. use the “live” virus that causes COVID-19, according to the CDC. Most of the vaccines under development introduce the “spike” protein found on the surface of the virus. They train the immune system to recognize this protein and attack in case of infection.

But both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines depend on a technology never before used in a commercial vaccine: mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid. Read more.

Where are the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines made?

Pfizer has two plants making its COVID-19 vaccine, one in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and one in Puurs, Belgium. The company has a distribution site in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, where its vaccine is being stored. There may also be other sites around the nation where the vaccine will be stored prior to authorization.

Moderna has started producing vaccine at its plant in Norwood, Massachusetts, and it will ramp up production in the next month with help from contract manufacturer Lonza Biologics, which has a facility in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

How will the vaccine be shipped?

The vaccine is shipped in glass vials, five-dose vials for Pfizer and 10-dose vials for Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees or below; Moderna’s at minus 4 degrees. Because of the ultracold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine, it is being stored either at Pfizer production facilities or what are known as “freezer farms,” storage sites filled with row upon row of ultracold freezers about the size of a large home refrigerator.

Pfizer will ship its vaccine using UPS and FedEx as its main distributors. Moderna’s vaccine distribution is being coordinated by McKesson, the nation’s largest medical supply distributor. Read more.

What is the vaccine delivery schedule?

Once the initial doses have shipped, the system will begin regular deliveries. Each Thursday, Operation Warp Speed, the White House’s coronavirus vaccine initiative, will ask vaccine producers how much vaccine they have made during the week, Paul Ostrowski, who leads supply, production and distribution for the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed, who walked USA TODAY through the process. On Friday, staff will meet and decide how many doses can be allocated. States will put in their orders on Saturday and deliveries will happen on Monday morning.

UPS, FedEx and McKesson all have 24-hour hotlines sites can call if there are delivery troubles. In addition, Operation Warp Speed officials said they will have staff available at two operations centers, one in Washington and one in Atlanta, both with 24-hour hotlines. Read more.

How does Operation Warp Speed track doses?

Operation Warp Speed created a software system called Tiberius that allows states and local jurisdictions to order and track vaccine. It records all allocations of COVID-19 vaccines to states, territories, cities and federal entities, said Col. Deacon Maddox, OWS Chief of Plans, Operations and Analysis. It works in conjunction with the CDC’s Vaccine Tracking System, known as VTrckS, which has been distributing vaccine for children for a decade. Read more.

How much does the vaccine cost?

Both Moderna and Pfizer have agreed to provide the U.S. with 100 million doses apiece, already funded through federal support of manufacturing and distribution. Vaccine doses purchased with U.S. taxpayer dollars will be given to the American people at no cost, according to the CDC.

“However, vaccine providers will be able to charge administration fees for giving or administering the shot to someone. Vaccine providers can get this fee reimbursed by the patient’s public or private insurance company or, for uninsured patients, by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund,” the CDC says on its website.

Want more information about how vaccines are authorized, approved and monitored? Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn answers questions here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID vaccine: Guide to side effects, when it will be out, ingredients

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U.K. Coronavirus Vaccine: Side Effects, Safety, and Who Gets It First

Britain’s National Health Service began delivering shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday, opening a public health campaign with little precedent in modern medicine and making Britons the first people in the world to receive an authorized, fully tested vaccine.

Here’s a guide to some of the basics.

Britain’s drug regulator is seen as a bellwether agency, and its decisions often have influence abroad. In the case of the Pfizer vaccine, the agency has said that it did not cut any corners, and undertook the same laborious process of vetting the quality, efficacy and manufacturing protocols of the vaccine — except faster than usual.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’s top infectious disease expert, said last week that the British had not reviewed the vaccine “as carefully” as the United States was. But he walked back those comments the next day, saying: “I have a great deal of confidence in what the U.K. does, both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint.”

Doctors and nurses, certain people over 80 and nursing home workers.

Some doctors and nurses have received invitations in recent days to sign up for appointments, with the first shots intended for those at the highest risk of severe illness. The government has indicated that people over 80 who already have visits with doctors scheduled for this week, or who are being discharged from certain hospitals, will also be among the first to receive shots.

Nursing home residents, who had been designated the top priority by a government advisory body, will be vaccinated in the coming weeks once health officials start distributing doses beyond hospitals.

They said they were not able to do so right away because of the ultracold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. The vaccine must be transported at South Pole-like temperatures, though Pfizer has said that it can be stored for five days in a normal refrigerator before being used.

British health officials released images on Monday of a small, wallet-size vaccination card. It will hold a record of the date of someone’s first and second dose of the vaccine, which are supposed to be roughly a month apart.

While the images raised fears of a government-mandated vaccine passport program, with the cards functioning as proof of vaccination and a key to traveling and going to events, health officials have indicated that the card will not function that way.

They have compared it to cards already in use by the country’s National Health Service for other two-dose vaccinations, and said it would be useful but not necessary for people to bring it to their second vaccination appointment. The card does not even have space for a vaccinated person’s name, making it impossible to use as proof of someone’s vaccination.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected.

A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus.

So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on.

Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms.

Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious side effects. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that last less than a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot.

While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

There’s no evidence that it does, and there’s good reason to think that it does not.

Some claims have been floating around the web that coronavirus vaccines can harm a woman’s fertility. Their supposed evidence rests on the fact that most coronavirus vaccines work by creating antibodies that attack the virus’s “spike” protein, and this protein has a minor resemblance to a protein crucial for the formation of the placenta.

But that does not mean that the antibodies generated by coronavirus vaccines would attack a pregnant woman’s placenta. The region of the placental protein that’s similar to the spike is just too short to give the antibodies a grip.

What’s more, the pandemic has brought a lot of evidence against the idea that the vaccine could threaten the placenta. When people get Covid-19, they fight off the coronavirus, known as ARS-CoV-2, by generating their own supply of spike antibodies. In recent months, researchers have carried out a number of studies on pregnant women to see if Covid-19 leads to miscarriages.

“And the consistent message is no, SARS-CoV-2 does not seem to induce miscarriage,” said Dr. Emily Miller, Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. “If the placenta isn’t knocked out by antibodies generated from overt infection with SARS-COV-2, it is highly unlikely that it would get knocked out after vaccination.”

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Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task

Hello, Earthlings! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task
  • The Paris Accord, 5 years later
  • Why so many tampon applicators end up on beaches

Tracking the effects of climate change on Arctic animals is no easy task

(David Grémillet)

The climate in the Arctic is rapidly changing and new research offers the first large-scale look at how animal species in the region are adapting.

Built by a team of international researchers, the Arctic Animal Movement Archive pulls together more than 200 animal tracking studies by universities, governments and conservationists from the last 30 years. And a large amount of data came from here in Canada.

“We worked for three years to … bring a lot of people together to create the archive,” said Gil Bohrer, a civil and environmental engineer at Ohio State University and one of the lead authors of the study, which was recently published in the journal Science.

The archive features tracking information collected from GPS devices worn by 86 species that live across the Arctic and subarctic regions from Canada to Greenland to Russia — everything from puffins to wolves to seals. 

Data like that is difficult to obtain, given the costs of getting to the Arctic and the process of tagging animals for long periods. “You need to buy a sensor, which is typically not cheap, and then you need to catch the animal and install the sensor — and you need to be lucky [in order] for that sensor to keep working,” said Bohrer. 

Allicia Kelly, a wildlife biologist for the government of the Northwest Territories, contributed monitoring data on boreal caribou and barren-ground caribou to the archive, two species that are at risk in Canada. She stressed the challenge of collecting this information, as well as the implications for the animals themselves. 

“It’s really intense to capture and collar animals, especially for the animals, so this data that we collect is hard-won, it’s valuable and we have a responsibility to squeeze as much as we can out of it.”

Researchers processed and standardized animal GPS data from the studies done over the last three decades and uploaded it using a program called Movebank.

Analyzing some of the data, researchers found young golden eagles, for example, shifted their migration patterns and some Northern caribou species are giving birth one week earlier compared to a decade ago. 

“This shift in the timing of when they calve has not occurred in the southern populations of our study. So from this we can see how caribou are perhaps adapting to environmental changes,” said Kelly. 

The archive will continue to grow, with some data automatically being added in real time through satellite networks and GPS trackers, so researchers can follow and monitor changes in this changing environment. It’s also in a standard format, so much easier to access.

“There’s different types of equipment that are used across different studies, and sometimes just the process of getting that data together, getting it cleaned so that you can use it in the same way, is really time-consuming,” said Kelly. 

That’s time that could be spent focusing on finding answers to new questions and exploring how these changes in the Arctic will impact not only animals but also local and Indigenous communities who depend on them.

“Understanding how [animals are] responding to threats from climate change and other pressures is really important to be able to mitigate those changes where we are able, or understand and adapt to them as they happen,” said Kelly.

Tashauna Reid

Reader feedback

In response to Nicole Mortillaro’s piece last week on the adverse environmental effects of light pollution, Helen Dylla wrote, “Like escalators that slow down when no one is using them, there should be a similar system for lights dimming when no one is in the area.”

Ronald Quick wrote, “Does reduced night lighting increase criminal activity? Sounds like many monitored cameras are essential to give police a chance.”

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

There’s also a radio show! This week, What on Earth host Laura Lynch explores what the U.S. election results mean for climate action, and whether Joe Biden’s win might influence Canada’s agenda. Listen on CBC Radio One on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., 1 p.m. in Newfoundland, on any time on podcast or CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: The Paris climate agreement

Five years ago next month, amid much jubilation and hope, 195 countries came together under the Paris Accord, a collective pledge to keep global warming this century under 2 C (from pre-industrial times) by striving to stay below 1.5 C. Although the agreement was vague on the pathways to this goal, it was a call to arms to reduce carbon emissions. It took effect on Nov. 4, 2016. Four days later, Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency and began the process of pulling the world’s second-biggest emitter out of a “totally disastrous” agreement that would “punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters” (his words). The U.S. officially left the Paris Accord on Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the U.S. election. Given Joe Biden’s victory, the departure is likely to be short-lived, as the Democratic president-elect has said he has every intention of returning the country to the agreement. Environmentalists acknowledge the Paris Accord is flawed — it is neither a cure-all for climate change nor is it enforceable. (Indeed, few countries are on target to meet their own goals.) Even so, the mere existence of the agreement has served as a cudgel to compel many companies — from banks to retailers to furniture manufacturers to, yes, fossil-fuel producers — to do what they can to curtail emissions.

(Patrick Kovarick/Getty Images)

Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • It’s only been a few days since the results of the U.S. election were announced, but president-elect Joe Biden has already laid out new plans to tackle climate change. Among the $1.7 trillion earmarked for new green investments, the Biden administration plans to fund “negative-emission technologies” — that is, methods of getting greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, including carbon-capture technology and plant-based sequestration.

  • What role will hydrogen have in future energy? A Bloomberg opinion piece suggests it might not live up to the hype for powering cars (battery vehicles are more efficient) but that it’s likely to play a crucial role in how we revamp our energy systems — by being the most effective backup solution for power grids.
  • Last year, socialist Bolivian President Evo Morales fled his country after an election result giving him a fourth term was bitterly contested. There were rumours that Morales had been forced to leave by political forces who wanted a more pro-business government — what many called a “coup.” Morales’s party won re-election recently, and Morales returned from Argentina (although he will have no role in the new government). This week, he claimed again that access to the country’s reserves of lithium (key to making batteries for laptops and electric vehicles) was behind the upheaval. “There’s a lot of concern in the United States over lithium, and this coup was for lithium,” Morales said.

Why so many tampon applicators end up on beaches

(Submitted by Rochelle Byrne)

During her annual cleanups along the shores of Lake Ontario, Rochelle Byrne has come across hundreds of plastic tampon applicators. “When I started finding those on beaches, I was a little bit confused,” she said.

Unlike litter such as coffee cups, plastic bags or cigarette butts, tampon applicators aren’t usually discarded on the shoreline. So Byrne, executive director of the non-profit A Greener Future, did some research to find out why they were ending up there. “It’s because people flush them down the toilet.”

Although they’re not listed as one of the items in the upcoming Canadian ban on single-use plastics, tampon applicators are frequently found in shoreline cleanups and don’t easily degrade.

They’re nowhere nearly as abundant as other shoreline litter — for example, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup found more than 680,000 cigarette butts and 74,000 food wrappers last year.

Still, between 3,000 and 3,500 tampons and applicators are found on the country’s beaches annually, said Kate Le Souef, manager of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. She estimates that applicators alone make up 80 per cent of that number.

But why are tampon applicators ending up on our shores in the first place?

Today in Canada, many tampons are sold with an applicator, which helps the user insert the tampon. While tampon applicators are only used for a few seconds, plastic takes a long time to degrade. “Because they’re hard plastic, they float,” Le Souef said. “[They] last a long time in the water.”

These applicators are often found on shorelines along with condoms and needles, items that usually originate in the same place — the toilet. 

These items aren’t supposed to be flushed, but if they are, they should be filtered out at sewage treatment plants. The fact that they’re ending up on beaches is “an indicator that there’s sewage being discharged in the area,” said Mark Mattson, founder of the non-profit Swim Drink Fish, a group that monitors the water in Lake Ontario.

That shouldn’t occur, but Mattson said it does in certain circumstances. In cities with older sewage systems, the same pipes take both sewage and rainwater to the treatment plant. If there’s a big rainstorm, the sewers get too full — and it’s all released into waterways, untreated.

On their websites, tampon companies say not to flush their products. But Byrne said, “I think it comes down to just the convenience of flushing.” For one thing, she said, it’s an easy way to make signs of a tampon disappear. 

The idea of keeping menstruation discreet may be at the root of this plastic problem, said Sharra Vostral, a professor at Purdue University who’s studied the history of menstrual pads. 

“We’re operating under this assumption that we need to hide periods,” she said. Vostral described how pads and tampons are designed to be as discreet as possible to help people “pass” as if they’re not menstruating. Flushing these products has helped hide periods for decades. 

These ways of thinking about menstruation may be at the root of why so many tampon applicators end up in the sewage system. Challenging those attitudes, Vostral said, is the first step toward change.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to say everyone’s going to jump up and embrace their periods,” she said. “But just making it neutral instead of stigmatized is a big shift.” 

— Menaka Raman-Wilms

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Flipping houses – If a Democratic wave breaks over state elections, its effects will be lasting | United States

MOST AMERICANS do not know who their state representatives are. Only 12% could correctly name them in a Co-operative Congressional Election Study from Harvard in 2018. But on a recent Saturday when Janet Diaz, who is running for Pennsylvania’s state Senate, knocked on doors belonging to Democratic-leaning households with (her data suggested) patchy voting records, the looks were not as blank as normal. Some even recognised her.

If elected, Ms Diaz would be the first Democrat to win the district since the 1870s. The 13th state Senate district, which stretches from Lancaster and its suburbs to rolling farmland, is probably the most fought-over race in a fought-over state. Our modelling suggests that Pennsylvania is the state most likely to determine who wins the White House. It is also one of the states the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) is trying to flip.

Democrats need nine seats to win control of Pennsylvania’s state House and have a shot at winning the Senate, too. The DLCC is spending a record $50m in 13 states including Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Other left-leaning groups, such as the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, headed by Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s attorney-general, are also spending heavily.

The Democrats have been trying to catch up since 2010, when they were outspent, outsmarted and lost control of 21 chambers. During Mr Obama’s two terms, Democrats lost around 1,000 of the 4,000-odd state seats they held in 2009 (there are 7,383 in all). This cost them not only control of the policy agenda but also, in many states, control of the power to draw congressional-district boundaries.

A decade later Democrats control 39 out of 98 chambers (not counting Nebraska’s unicameral, non-partisan legislature) and have regained 450 of those lost seats. On the watch of Jessica Post, head of the DLCC, they have taken ten state-legislative chambers and made inroads in North Carolina and Texas. They are unlikely to match the Republicans’ success in 2010, but only because they have already won the easiest targets. At stake, once again, is control over redistricting. David Abrams of the Republican State Leadership Committee says this means “there’s a decade of power hanging in the balance” on November 3rd.

In addition to Pennsylvania, other states to watch include Arizona, which has not had a Democratic chamber in more than 40 years and where the party needs only two seats to flip the House and three to take the Senate. The Texas House needs nine seats to change hands. Mark Jones of Rice University judges that Donald Trump’s name at the top of the ticket “has put the Texas House in play”.

It is not just the scale of spending which is unusual. Run for Something, a political-action committee, has recruited 62,000 young Democrats to stand for office, with 500 on the ballot next week. Rita Bosworth, a founder of the Sister District Project, which pairs volunteers with swing districts, points to Colorado as an example of the difference that candidate recruitment can make. Her group helped secure a Democratic clean-sweep there in 2018. In June Colorado’s lawmakers passed broad police reforms. The opportunity for more of that is on the ballot, too.

Dig deeper:
Read the best of our 2020 campaign coverage and explore our election forecasts, then sign up for Checks and Balance, our weekly newsletter and podcast on American politics.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “Flipping houses”

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‘Pokémon Go’ gets AR Mapping tasks to enable more realistic effects

Pokémon Go players may see a new tag marking some PokéStops next time they check the app. Niantic has officially launched AR Mapping tasks for level 20 Trainers and up, almost five months after the company announced that it’s launching the feature. When they spin a PokéStop marked with the “AR Mapping” tag, they’ll get a Field Research task that will require them to open the AR scanning screen and to explore the area.

Niantic first announced that it’s working on a PokéStop Scan feature back in May in an effort to improve Pokémon Go’s augmented reality effects. By getting players to scan locations, the developer will get what it needs to be able to create 3D maps of PokéStops. They can then use that data to make critters interact with real—world objects, so they can hide behind a tree trunk instead of just float in front of it. Niantic started testing the better AR effects feature called “Reality Blending” back in May, as well, though it’s limited to users with certain newer Android phones.

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