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Fewer than 60% of Americans believe vaccines are safe, effective, study finds

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Sept. 10 (UPI) — Less than 60% of Americans believe vaccines are safe and effective, according to an analysis published Thursday by the Lancet.

Although that figure is on par with much of Western Europe — and is far higher than those in many eastern European and Asian nations — it may be “masking pockets of dissent,” study co-author Heidi Larson told UPI.

The findings are significant, given the global quest for a vaccine against COVID-19, which as of Thursday afternoon has infected nearly 28 million people globally, including 6.4 million in the United States, based on figures from Johns Hopkins University.

The pandemic won’t end until there is a viable vaccine and large numbers of people take it, experts have said.

“Our U.S. data is from a nationally representative sample,” said Larson, a professor of anthropology and director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Based on our social media analysis and other locally specific data collection, those who are overtly against vaccines are more highly organized, and louder, and their messages are having repercussions in different parts of the world,” she said.

The Vaccine Confidence Project was founded a decade ago to help monitor public attitudes to vaccines and to inform policymakers of the changing trends and determinants of vaccine confidence around the world.

Public confidence in vaccines varies widely from country to country, according to Larson and her colleagues.

Although signs exist that public trust in preventive vaccines for diseases ranging from the flu to measles may be improving in parts of Europe, several countries — particularly those experiencing political instability and religious extremism — are seeing growing skepticism.

In addition, the spread of misinformation online is threatening vaccination programs worldwide, the researchers said.

In 2019, the World Health Organization declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. Declining public confidence can result in vaccine delays or refusals, which is contributing to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease like measles, polio and meningitis, according to Larson and her colleagues.

For their analysis, the researchers mapped global trends in vaccine confidence across 149 countries between 2015 and 2019, using data from more than 284,000 adults worldwide who who responded to 290 national surveys about their views on whether vaccines are important, safe and effective.

The team then estimated trends in public perceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and the importance of vaccinating children. It also considered the relationship between vaccine uptake in each country and demographic — including religious beliefs — and socioeconomic factors.

Confidence in vaccine safety is increasing in several countries, including Britain, Finland, France, Italy and Ireland, the team reported. In France, where confidence in vaccines has been persistently low, 30% of those surveyed in December 2019 said they believe vaccines are safe — up from 22% one year earlier.

In Britain, 52% of those surveyed in November 2019 expressed confidence in vaccine safety, up from 47% 18 months earlier, the researchers said.

In the United States, meanwhile, public confidence in vaccines has remained fairly steady, with 50% to 60% of people surveyed believing they are safe, according to the researchers.

Conversely, in Poland, which has a growing anti-vaccine movement, 53% of respondents reported confidence in vaccine safety in 2019, down from 64% in 2015, the data showed.

In other Eastern European countries, fewer than 20% of the public believes vaccines are safe, while in some countries in the Middle East, where some Muslim religious leaders urge followers to not get vaccinated, that percentage is below 5%, according to the researchers.

“Vaccine confidence is highly volatile — with ups and down, shocks and wobbles — which means it is vulnerable to crashing, and needs constant vigilance and nurturing to be sustained,” Larson said.

Writing in a related commentary, Daniel Salmon and Matthew Dudley, both professors at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who were not involved in the study, said that “vaccines have a remarkable safety record, based on rigorous processes of phased randomized controlled trials.”

“Without substantial global investment in active vaccine safety surveillance, continuous monitoring of public perceptions and development of rapid and flexible communication strategies, there is a risk of [COVID-19] vaccines never reaching their potential due to a continued inability to quickly and effectively respond to public vaccine safety concerns, real or otherwise,” the professors wrote.



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‘Green prescriptions’ could cancel mental health benefits for some

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So-called “green prescriptions” may end up being counterproductive for people with mental health conditions, researchers say.

Spending time in nature is believed to benefit mental health, so some doctors are beginning to “prescribe” outdoor time for their patients.

That led researchers to investigate whether being in nature helps actually does help people with issues such as anxiety and depression. They collected data from more than 18,000 people in 18 countries.

The takeaway: Time in nature does provide several benefits for people with mental health conditions, but only if they choose on their own to visit green spaces.

While being advised to spend time outdoors can encourage such activity, it can also undermine the potential emotional benefits, according to the authors of the study published this month in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers said they were surprised to find that people with depression were spending time in nature as often as folks with no mental health issues, and that people with anxiety were doing so much more often.

While in nature, those with depression and anxiety tended to feel happy and reported low anxiety. But those benefits appeared to be undermined when the visits were done at others’ urging, the investigators found.

The more external pressure people with depression and anxiety felt to visit nature, the less motivated they were to do so and the more anxious they felt.

“These findings are consistent with wider research that suggests that urban natural environments provide spaces for people to relax and recover from stress,” said study leader Michelle Tester-Jones, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

But the findings also show that health care practitioners and loved ones should be sensitive about recommending time in nature for people who have mental health issues.

“It could be helpful to encourage them to spend more time in places that people already enjoy visiting, so they feel comfortable and can make the most of the experience,” Tester-Jones said in a university news release.

More information

For more on the benefits of green spaces, go to the National Recreation and Park Association.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Nearly half of ‘essential workers’ in U.S. at risk for severe COVID-19

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — Nearly half of those classified as “essential workers” in the United States are at increased risk for severe COVID-19, according to an analysis published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine.

This means that more than 74 million workers and those with whom they live could be at risk for serious illness, based on disease risk guidelines developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the researchers said.

“Many parts of the country face high and rising infection rates, [and] we should not think about work exposure and health risks in isolation, given that workers and persons at increased risk often live in the same households,” study co-author Thomas M. Selden told UPI.

“Insofar as we can reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, we can reduce the extent to which policymakers have to choose between the economy and keeping the population safe,” said Selden, an economist with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States in March, states and cities across the country have instituted lockdown measures designed to limit the spread of the disease.

Many of these measures entailed closing schools and non-essential businesses, with only banks, grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses deemed to provide vital services allowed to stay open.

For this study, Selden and his colleagues analyzed data on the U.S. workforce to examine how many people were in essential jobs, how often they were able to work at home, their risk for severe COVID-19 and the potential health risks for their household members.

Of the more than 157 million workers across the country, 72% are in jobs deemed essential — based on U.S. Department of Homeland Security criteria — and more than three-fourths of all essential workers are unable to work at home, Selden said.

Essential workers include those in the medical and healthcare, telecommunications, information technology systems, defense, food and agriculture, transportation and logistics and energy, water and wastewater industries, as well as those in law enforcement and public works, the DHS criteria stipulates.

The study notes that up to 60% of these workers have underlying health issues, placing them at increased risk for severe COVID-19 if they get infected, as defined by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Those with diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and chronic respiratory conditions like asthma are considered to be at high risk for serious illness, the CDC says.

Based on these findings, between roughly 57 million and 74 million adults working in on-site essential jobs — and their families — are at increased risk for serious illness, Selden and his colleagues estimated.

“Policymakers face important decisions about how to balance the economic benefits of keeping workers employed and the public health benefits of protecting those with increased risk of severe COVID-19,” Selden said.

“These issues arise in the context of decisions to close segments of the economy and decisions about how to distribute vaccines, which will initially be available only with limited supply, [and] become all the more difficult when the prevalence of infection rises in parts of the country,” he said.



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Study: Hydroxychloroquine no better than placebo for hospitalized COVID-19 patients

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Nov. 9 (UPI) — COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine showed no signs of significant improvement in “clinical status” compared with those given a placebo, a study published Monday by JAMA found.

Patients given a five-day course of the drug were scored as “category six” based on the World Health Organization’s seven-category COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, the same as those given a placebo, the researchers said.

Also, 28 days after they started treatment, 10.4% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died, just slightly lower than the 10.6% fatality rate in the placebo group.

“The results show that hydroxychloroquine did not help patients recover from COVID-19,” study co-author Dr. Wesley H. Self told UPI.

“In the study, patients treated with hydroxychloroquine and those treated with a placebo had nearly identical outcomes, [so] I do not foresee any role for hydroxychloroquine in acutely ill patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” said Self, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Hydroxychloroquine is an immunosuppressive and anti-parasitic drug that is used to treat malaria.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, it was touted by President Donald Trump and others as a potential treatment for the virus, despite the lack of any scientific data supporting its use.

Given its effectiveness helping those sickened with malaria — a mosquito-borne infection — to recover, “there was a strong rationale for why hydroxychloroquine may have been beneficial for patients with COVID-19,” according to Self.

However, in July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned against the drug’s use in the treatment of those infected with the new coronavirus, due to potentially serious heart-related side effects.

For this study, Self and his colleagues treated 433 COVID-19 patients at 34 hospitals across the United States with either the drug or a placebo for a period of five days.

Patients assigned to the hydroxychloroquine group received 400 milligrams of the drug in pill form twice a day for the first two doses and then 200 mg. in pill form twice a day for the next eight doses, for a total of 10 doses over the five days.

All of the patients were then assessed based on the WHO’s COVID Ordinal Outcomes Scale, which categorizes those infected according to disease severity.

Most of the patients in both the hydroxycholorquine group and the placebo group were in “category six,” meaning they were hospitalized and receiving extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or invasive mechanical ventilation to maintain their breathing, the researchers said.

“Our results, especially when combined from other studies conducted in the United Kingdom and Brazil, are good evidence that hydroxychloroquine does not provide benefit for patients hospitalized with COVID-19,” Self said.



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