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Even 1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine could cut transmission almost in half
A single dose of COVID-19 vaccine using drugs recommended for two doses for maximum immunity can cut household transmission of coronavirus by up to half, a new study has suggested. The research, carried out by the UK’s Public Health England (PHE), looked at how likely it was that COVID-19 could be passed between people living in the same home after even partial vaccination had been given.
PHE looked at two COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer BioNTech’s and AstraZeneca’s. Of the two, only the former is currently in use in the US, though both drugs are being distributed in the UK and elsewhere. Each recommends two doses, given roughly a month apart, in order for individuals to see maximum immunity from severe cases of coronavirus that would otherwise likely result in hospitalization or even death.
What the vaccines don’t do, however, is prevent people from catching COVID-19 at all. Instead, they’re intended to reduce the severity of those infections, so that they don’t become life-threatening. Some people who have caught COVID-19 after being vaccinated have reported it feels more akin to a heavy cold or flu, though experiences vary.
A lingering question, meanwhile, has been around the impact of vaccinations on COVID-19 transmission. With the immunization process still underway, large swathes of the population still remain unvaccinated; it’d been unclear just how likely vaccinated people are to pass coronavirus to that unvaccinated group. Exacerbating the confusion is that asymptomatic COVID-19 – where no symptoms are shown, but the individual can still be infectious nonetheless – seems to be more likely than symptomatic cases among the vaccinated group.
“This new research shows that those who do become infected 3 weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who were unvaccinated,” the PHE said today of its study. “Protection was seen from around 14 days after vaccination, with similar levels of protection regardless of age of cases or contacts.”
Meanwhile, the organization says, vaccinated people are at reduced risk of developing a symptomatic COVID-19 infection to begin with. That’s said to be around 60-65 percent from four weeks after the first dose of either of the two drugs.
“Households are high-risk settings for transmission and provide early evidence on the impact of vaccines in preventing onward transmission,” the PHE added. “Similar results could be expected in other settings with similar transmission risks, such as shared accommodations and prisons.”
Public Health England looked at over 57,000 contacts from 24,000 households, in which there was a lab-confirmed case that had received a vaccination. That’s compared with nearly 1 million contacts of unvaccinated cases.
“Not only do vaccines reduce the severity of illness and prevent hundreds of deaths every day, we now see they also have an additional impact on reducing the chance of passing COVID-19 on to others,” Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunization at PHE, said of the findings. “I encourage anyone who is offered a vaccine to take it as soon as possible.”
The US CDC announced changes to its guidelines for fully vaccinated people – that is, people who have waited two weeks after the final dose of their vaccine, whether that be a single-dose or two-dose drug – and unvaccinated people when outdoors. It’s now considered safe for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people to do outdoor activities like walking and biking without wearing masks, the CDC suggested, though indoor events can still be a significant risk.
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The magnitude of COVID-19′s grip has come at the world fast making it difficult to grasp. Sometimes, visualizing the statistics makes them easier to comprehend. By now, you’ve probably seen hundreds of maps strewn across the internet, depicting coronavirus cases around the world, and countless graphs and charts showing the dramatic rise in confirmed cases over the past few weeks. The problem is that COVID-19 has become such a complex disease that it has proven itself difficult to visualize accurately.
Take what has become the predominant way to show case counts: a map. Visualizing where in the world has the most number of confirmed coronaviruses cases isn’t an inherently bad idea—at PopSci, we made such a map towards the beginning of the outbreak precisely because it seemed smart to show readers where the epidemic was hitting hardest.
But there are some problems with these maps. One is the difference in scale between countries hit hard (like China, the United States, and Italy) and those currently more spared is massive. If you scale bubbles on a map to the number of COVID-19 cases, the bubbles for hard-hit areas quickly envelop the entire map. This covers up countries with fewer cases. Using colors isn’t necessarily better, since the disparity between countries with tens of thousands of cases completely overshadow those with mere thousands. To see why, let’s look not at a map but at a grid showing every country with at least one coronavirus case (as of March 19), and how their outbreaks have progressed since late January.
Up to date through March 19. Excluding countries with populations under 50,000 Infographic by Sara Chodosh
Based on that graph, you’d say that China is way out ahead of the pack, with Italy, Iran, Spain, Germany, the US, France, and South Korea not too far behind. To some degree that’s accurate, but it’s still far from the real story in a couple of crucial ways.
First, the case counts don’t account for the population of a country. China has roughly 1.3 billion people, whereas Italy has 60 million. If they had the same number of confirmed cases, they’d have drastically different portions of their population who are affected.
To remedy that we can look instead at infection rates, which are adjusted for the country’s population and given as cases per one million people. That graphic tells quite a different story. Here we’ve shown the countries in the same order as before, and labeled the top 10 countries by infection rate.
Excluding countries with populations under 50,000 Infographic by Sara Chodosh
China doesn’t even crack the top 30 countries by case rate, which is itself misleading because Wuhan, as the origin of the outbreak, was far harder hit than any other region. Norway now makes the list, as does Greece, Austria, and Switzerland. Luxembourg and Andorra are in the top 10 largely because of their exceptionally small populations (roughly 600,000 and 77,000, respectively). Spain and Italy have large populations, but enormous case counts.
Iceland is perhaps the most interesting. As a country of only about 365,000 people it would be easy to assume it’s only on this list by virtue of its small size, but the truth is that Iceland has the highest testing rate of any country in the world right now. South Korea has tested about 5,200 people per million, and that’s twice as high as any other country, Iceland excluded. But Iceland has achieved double South Korea’s rate. That means they’ve found far more cases than anywhere else because they’ve tested an enormous number of asymptomatic people and found the coronavirus lurking in places few other countries are even looking.
And that brings up another major issue with looking at pure case counts: You’re only ever looking at confirmed cases. Most places aren’t testing a huge number of people right now, which means there are certainly many more folks infected than the stats suggest. And because of the massive variation in testing rates, it’s close to impossible to compare case counts between countries (or sometimes even within one) because our ability to detect mild cases is so low in some areas.
Take a look at this chart of confirmed COVID-19 cases across US states:
Up to date through March 19. Infographic by Sara Chodosh
Based on this chart you’d say that just a handful of states hold the vast majority of cases. But if we instead plot confirmed cases versus testing rates, you’d see another story: The places with the highest infection rates also have the highest testing rates.
Up to date through March 19. Infographic by Sara Chodosh
Most states are clustered at the bottom right now, but we’d be wise not to chalk that up to a lack of infections, but rather to a failure in testing. As we continue to ramp up testing, we’d expect to see huge jumps in case counts as well.
As case counts no doubt continue to rise over the coming weeks, it’s also worth looking at something other than infection rates—it’s worth looking at the number of deaths and recoveries.
The graph of total confirmed cases worldwide is terrifying (and, frankly, it should be). It’s rising at an exponential rate and showing no sign of stopping. But for context, it’s also worth showing the large fraction of people who have already recovered from the virus.
Up to date through March 19. Infographic by Sara Chodosh
That curve is going to look very different as cases skyrocket in areas other than China, but we might take some solace in knowing that every time you hear the case count for China, you should remember than two thirds of those people are already over the virus. As of March 24, there are more than 81,500 confirmed cases there, of which more than 60,300 have recovered.
On the other hand, places like Italy are still suffering massively. They currently have nearly 64,000 cases and only about 7,400 have recovered so far, which is only marginally more than the number of people who have died there.
The death toll is itself complicated. Looking at the graph above you might conclude that only a tiny fraction of people who contract COVID-19 die from it. And that’s true. But it’s important to remember that even a relatively low death rate—we’re talking low single-digits—works out to millions and millions of people dying worldwide. High death tolls also means overwhelmed hospital systems, which means even more deaths, both from those with coronavirus and those with other diseases who can’t get access to proper healthcare.
This pandemic is now a once-in-a-lifetime event at a scale that few of us could ever have imagined (though many warned us about). It’s hard enough to keep up with the news, let alone really grasp what’s going on worldwide, but amid the panic it’s crucial that we keep striving to understand the situation complexly. Daily updates on case counts and disease spread are important—but they’re not the whole story.
Fully vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 are about 50 percent less likely to experience long COVID than unvaccinated people who get infected, researchers report in a new paper.
A team of researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed the health outcomes of adults who contracted COVID-19 and then used a voluntary symptom-tracking mobile app. The participants who received one of two doses of the Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca vaccines between December 2023 and July 2023 were compared against a control group of unvaccinated individuals.
Researchers found that only 0.2 percent of nearly 1 million fully vaccinated people reported a breakthrough infection. But those breakthroughs were twice as likely to be asymptomatic compared to unvaccinated infected individuals, and half as likely to have long-term COVID-19 symptoms. The odds of hospitalization were also 73 percent lower for the vaccinated group versus the unvaccinated. The findings were published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
According to the study authors, this paper is (to their knowledge) “the first to investigate the characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 infection after first and second COVID-19 vaccinations.” This research is also among the earliest to show how immunization impacts the risk of experiencing long COVID.
[Related: Breakthrough cases won’t stop vaccines from ending the pandemic]
Long COVID has been the subject of much anxiety since it was first documented last year. While the majority of people who get COVID-19 will recover within a few weeks, as many as one third of infected adults will display symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, and heart palpitation, among others, months after infection.
“We don’t have a treatment yet for long COVID,” Claire Steves, a geriatrician at King’s College London and the study’s lead author, told The New York Times. She added that their research shows how getting vaccinated, she said, “is a prevention strategy that everybody can engage in.”
The study participants had been vaccinated with one of three vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s mRNA vaccines, or AstraZeneca’s DNA-based vaccine. Britain only just approved the Johnson & Johnson shot for use in May, and so recipients of that vaccine were not included in the new study. The study authors also did not analyze their data by coronavirus strain, so although the delta variant was spreading throughout the UK during the research period, it’s unclear whether the risks of long COVID change depending on the variant contracted. Regardless, it’s clear that the vaccines are providing significant protection.
“Vaccinations are massively reducing the chances of people getting long COVID in two ways,” King’s College London genetic epidemiologist and paper co-author Tim Spector said in a statement. “Firstly, by reducing the risk of any symptoms by 8 to 10 fold, and then by halving the chances of any infection turning into long COVID, if it does happen. Whatever the duration of symptoms we are seeing [from] infections after two vaccinations are also much milder, so vaccines are really changing the disease and for the better.”
But these new findings are not the final word. The research team acknowledges that, since all their data was self-reported, much more research needs to be done to fully untangle how COVID-19 manifests and persists in vaccinated people, especially for at-risk groups and marginalized communities.
Any time an event is held, COVID-19 infection is a risk. After all, the virus loves nothing more than people crowding together and talking loudly. But of course, not all events are created equal: The risk of spreading COVID-19 at a 10-person outdoor wedding where everyone is masked up is going to be significantly less than an indoor rally with hundreds of people, where mask usage is far more casual.
And while you won’t know if a large gathering was a super spreader event until a few weeks later, there are a few factors that can make certain events more likely to be super spreader ones. On Wednesday, as unmasked mobs stormed the capitol, a lot of boxes were ticked that make public health experts wary.
“Anytime you have a mass gathering like that, with the protest and with all the yelling and shouting and people not wearing masks, with the prevalence of the virus in the community, there will likely be cases that result,” said Amesh Adalja, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Here are the big red flags that made Wednesday not only a historically significant day but potentially a notorious public health one.Among rioters, there was limited mask use, yelling, and movement to an indoor location
If you were tuning in earlier this week to the events going down at the capitol building, it was pretty clear that COVID-19 restrictions were not being actively considered. Mask use was limited, people were flocked closely together, and there was plenty of shouting and screaming. Some rioters even openly mocked public health precautions, Ars Technica reported, and some supporters encouraged the spread of disease by hugging people outside of their household.
And while hugging a stranger, yelling maskless, and traveling in closely packed groups is risky even when done outside, once these activities start taking place indoors, the risk is amplified.
“I’m less worried about what was happening outdoors,” Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles told The New York Times. “The risk increases exponentially indoors.”
This is the reason why this particular event, compared to other events like the Black Lives Matter protests over the summer, could be even riskier. BLM protesters largely stayed outside and masked up, and research found that these events weren’t super-spreaders, according to The New York Times. On the other hand, Trump campaign rallies that didn’t follow public health guidance may have caused over 30,000 cases between June and September.Travelers came from out of town to gather
For many people worried about COVID-19 spread, traveling has pretty much been put on hold for the better part of the last year. And for those who must travel, some restrictions like staying at home in quarantine for a time period before meeting others can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
But, not everyone follows those rules, and traveling can be one of the riskier ways to spread disease from a hot spot to all corners of the country. And for some rioters, attending last week’s mob event meant trotting in from places like Texas, Virginia, and California, some of which are experiencing tremendous waves of virus spread.
“Any time there’s a mass gathering where people come from all over the country and parts of a state, there is going to be a dispersal effect from people who contract the virus at the event,” Adalja said. “They can take it back to their hometown and set off transmission there.”
The potential nightmarish results of infected people returning to their hometowns could put even more pressure on the already incredibly overwhelmed hospitals across the country.Congress members were evacuated closely together
It’s clear that COVID-19 doesn’t care about your political stance, age, or hometown when it comes to being infected. As the rioters stormed The Capitol, security personnel quickly escorted congresspeople and their staff to a safe location—because lives were potentially in danger, all of this was done without social distancing protocols.
“I am worried not only that it could lead to super-spreading, but also super-spreading to people who are elected officials,” Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told The New York Times. A number of representatives have tested positive in the time since the attack, including representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a 75-year-old cancer survivor who said she had been huddled among hundreds of other people and Representative Pramila Jayapal from Washington state. Pennsylvania representative Susan Wild noted that swaths of congresspeople refused to wear a mask even when offered to them.
We won’t know for sure what will happen in terms of case counts, but rioters, security members, congresspeople, and anyone who came in contact with them should take serious precautions and consider quarantining even if they have no symptoms.
In California, early signs have begun to appear that the state’s swift and aggressive social distancing measures have slowed the spread of COVID-19. Now, the city of San Francisco is assembling a task force to prevent the disease from surging back once they relax stay-at-home orders. They plan to do so by tracking down everyone who has come into contact with those who test positive for COVID-19.
This technique, known as contact tracing, will be necessary across the United States to tamp down transmission levels until a vaccine comes along; a similar effort is already ramping up in Massachusetts. However, traditional contact tracing is time and labor-intensive, and will be difficult for public health officials to enact on the scale needed across the country. It also depends on people’s ability to remember everybody who they encountered over the preceding two weeks. But research groups across the U.S. are creating tech they hope will help.
“We’re looking at probably some sort of automated technology-based contact tracing, I think, if we want to be realistic,” says Tyler Yasaka, a software engineer and junior specialist in otolaryngology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. He and his colleagues are among many teams of researchers around the world who have developed mobile apps to track the spread of COVID-19.
Multiple governments around the world have begun using location data from smartphones to monitor people’s movements, and this is not always done anonymously. In South Korea, developers have also offered several smartphone apps that plot the locations of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19. But this approach invades people’s privacy and raises significant concerns about surveillance. That’s why Yasaka—as well as other groups led by MIT researchers and Apple and Google—are focusing their efforts on apps that don’t collect personal information or data on people’s locations. Instead, they anonymously link interactions between people.
The apps developed by Apple and Google and by the collaboration of researchers at MIT and other institutions rely on short-range Bluetooth signals, similarly to Apple’s “Find My” feature for locating lost devices. Each phone would automatically store a list of anonymous signals it has “overheard” from other nearby phones; when somebody is diagnosed with COVID-19, they could upload the list on their phone to a database. The apps would then alert the other users who recently came into contact with that person.
As with the other apps, people who test positive for COVID-19 can report their status anonymously and people linked to their chain of transmission would be notified that they may have been exposed to the virus. Yasaka and his team have already created a beta version of the app.
“As you move from one checkpoint to another those checkpoints do get connected together, but your identity is not involved in that and the app specifically never collects any information about you,” he says. “The whole process should take about five or ten seconds; you don’t have to download or register anything.”
However, one challenge for all of these apps will be ensuring enough people use them to create an accurate picture of COVID-19 transmission.
“I actually think there is value in having something that is an active and social process,” Yasaka says. When somebody scans a QR code, people around them will notice. “If other people are doing it, that might prompt you to also take part in it,” he says. Peer pressure also might help. If your friends are meeting up (once social distancing measures relax, that is) they can encourage you to do it with them, Yasaka says.
Another issue is making sure the self-reported data is accurate. If people don’t share their diagnoses or incorrectly report that they have COVID-19 that could make the app less effective. Coordinating with public health authorities could help prevent this from happening, Yasaka says. Authorized users who deliver test results to people could print out a QR code and ask folks if they would like to scan it to the app to notify others that they may be at risk. “That little prompt could help participation be higher,” Yasaka says.
He is currently discussing possible opportunities to collaborate with the team behind the MIT app, which is part of the university’s Private Automated Contact Tracing (PACT) project. Ideally, Yasaka would like TrackCOVID to be ready for widespread use by the end of summer. However, all of these apps will need to be evaluated by scientists and other experts before they can be broadly adopted, he adds.
Even then, they will not stall COVID-19 entirely. But reliable contact tracing and extensive testing are key for easing widespread lockdowns and intense social distancing without causing the disease to return in fresh waves that are as deadly as the initial outbreak. Apps such as the ones envisioned by Yasaka, the PACT team, and Apple and Google would complement old-fashioned contact tracing efforts, such as the ones underway in San Francisco and Massachusetts.
“Manual contact tracing is the premier, the gold standard for how this should be done,” said Ron Rivest, the principal investigator of MIT’s PACT project, in a public webinar the university hosted on April 16. “Automated contact tracing is not a replacement for that.”
He and his colleagues stressed that another crucial element for successfully deploying contact tracing apps is openness between groups working on different approaches.
“This is not an MIT effort, this is not a U.S. effort or a Massachusetts effort,” Rivest said. “This is a worldwide effort to get us all on the same side and work together to defeat the coronavirus. Collaboration is the key here.”
The Last of Us Part 1 PC requirements and features revealed
Sony and Naughty Dog have formally released the requirements and specifications for The Last of Us Part 1.
Naughty Dog’s epic game of Joel and Ellie’s journey across post-apocalyptic America is finally arriving on PC later this month (March 23) and we now know what Sony thinks are the best PC specs for the quality levels on offer. The good news is that enjoyable gameplay is going to be attainable for many PC players, and the features are pretty fulsome, all of which is described extensively in a recent PlayStation blog post.
You can find the full list of specs below, to see how your machine might fare – or to see what you might be tempted to upgrade in time for the game’s release – below for Sony’s full recommendations and tech specifications.
The Last of Us Part 1 PC Specs & Requirements
Credit to PlayStation Blog
This version of the game was released on PS5 back in September 2023, but now it’s time for the post-apocalyptic epic to have it’s day on PC. The specs also show that you won’t necessarily need one of the best gaming laptops or best gaming PCs to enjoy the game. The base-level specs are very achievable and you’ll even be able to enjoy super-smooth 1080p gaming with the likes of a 2070 Super (a now near-four-year-old graphics card).
Minimum system requirements
With these minimum system requirement, players can expect to be running The Last Of Us Part 1 at 30 FPS and 720p resolution with low graphical settings.
CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 1500X / Intel Core i7 4770K
Graphics Card – AMD Radeon 470 (4GB) / Nvidia GeForce 1050 Ti (4GB)
RAM – 16GB
Recommended system requirements
Running The Last Of Us Part 1 with the recommended system requirements should yield 60 FPS at 1080p with high graphical settings.
CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 3600X / Intel Core i7-8700
Graphics Card – AMD Radeon RX 5800 or 6600 XT (8GB) / Nvidia Geforce RTX 2070 Super or RTX 3060 (8GB)
RAM – 16GB
Performance system requirements
Performance system requirements in The Last Of Us Part 1 at 60 FPS at a resolution of 1440p, with high graphical options.
CPU – AMD Ryzen 5 5600X / Intel Core i7-9700K
Graphics Card – AMD Radeon RX 6750XT / Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
RAM – 32GB
Ultra system requirements
Ultra system requirements for The Last Of Us Part 1 will run the game at 60 FPS, 4K resolution, and the maximum graphical options.
CPU – AMD Ryzen 9 5900X / Intel Core i5-12600K
Graphics Card – AMD RX 7900XT (FSR quality) / Nvidia Geforce RTX 4080
RAM – 32GB
The Last of Us Part 1 PC features
PC folks will also be able to squeeze – and see – even more out of the game than those on console: the ultrawide support epitomises that beautifully, and in both 21:9 and 32:9 resolutions too. That makes people like yours truly very pleased as there’ll be even more post-apocalyptic landscapes and environments to soak up in every frame.
Other highlights on the feature front include compatibility with the DualSense including haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, as well as the DualShock 4 PlayStation controller – and those from other brands too – and full controller remapping, and the ability to mix between pad and M&K.
The Last of Us Part 1 PC features the base game, Left Behind DLC, and extra modes like Phoot Mode, and Permadeath Mode, and is available for pre-order (see below) and can be nabbed on both Steam and the Epic Games Store.
The Last of Us Part 1 PC pre order & editions
If you’re absolutely sold on this announcement – and why wouldn’t you be – then Green Man Gaming has you covered with some great The Last of Us PC pre order prices that you can see below:
The Last of Us Part 1 PC – Standard Edition – $53.99 / £44.99 at Green Man Gaming
The Last of Us Part 1 PC – Digital Deluxe Edition – $62.99 / £53.99 at Green Man Gaming
However, if you want to go big, and have been eyeing up the rather special Firefly Edition, then you’ll need to head over to PlayStation Direct:
The Last of Us Part 1 PC – Firefly Edition – $99.99 / £99.99 at PlayStation Direct
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