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Minister for Equalities calls for everyone to get COVID-19 jabs

Jacob Scott

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The final report into Covid-19 disparities sets out how Government research identified the key virus risk factors – such as occupation, household size and wider living circumstances – for specific groups and used that data to provide targeted, evidence-based guidance and advice on how to reduce the risk of infection.



Final report on understanding and tackling COVID-19 disparities is published.
Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, calls for everyone to get every jab they need, to protect themselves and others, especially those at greater risk.
All recommendations from key report accepted by Government and findings will continue to inform the ongoing response to the pandemic and future public health campaigns.

The Government’s evidence-based strategy evolved as the virus did – from preventing infection and protecting frontline workers, to guidance on safety at work and in multigenerational homes, to the vaccine deployment and tackling disinformation.


The research was also used to inform the rollout of the world-leading vaccine deployment program in those communities, with a range of measures used to increase vaccine confidence and tackle misinformation. Following concerted action by Government to encourage ethnic minority people to take the vaccine, 96% of all British adults, across all ethnic groups, were positive about it, and vaccine uptake and confidence has increased across all ethnic groups since the beginning of the year.


All recommendations in today’s report, such as addressing specific ethnic minority groups, rather than referring to ‘BAME’, and applying lessons from the COVID-19 vaccination deployment to future programs, have been accepted by the Government.


Minister for Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, said:


“Our understanding of how Covid-19 affects different ethnic groups has transformed since the pandemic began.


“We know now that factors like the job someone does, where they live, and how many people they live with, impacts how susceptible they are to the virus and it’s imperative that those more at risk get their booster vaccine or their first and second dose if they are yet to have them. These insights from the award-winning Race Disparity Unit have informed every action we have taken to tackle disparities, not least through our history-making vaccination campaign.


“This work is not over. We still need everyone to get vaccinated to protect ourselves, our families, and our society. By accepting the recommendations of my reports, the Government has committed to learning and applying important lessons from this pandemic across public health to ensure everyone, of every background lives a longer, healthier and happier life.”


Minister for Vaccines and Public Health Minister for Vaccines and Public Health, Maggie Throup said:


“We know that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on ethnic minorities and this report helps us further understand the reasons why.


“The vaccine is our best defense against this virus and our phenomenal vaccine campaign has saved thousands of lives. You can still get your first vaccine, second dose and if eligible, the booster jab to secure vital protection for yourself and your loved ones.”


Professor Sir Ian Diamond said:


“The Race Disparity Unit won the ONS Research in Excellence award for their innovative work into the disproportionate impact of Covid on ethnic minority groups. This superb work has demonstrated how research can be used to tackle inequalities in our society, and the powerful role that analysis can have in informing decisions.”


Professor Kevin Fenton, London Regional Director for the Office of Health Improvement & Disparities (OHID), said:


“The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have been acutely felt in our ethnic minority communities. However, we are now in a very different place, armed with the knowledge and understanding about why and how Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities have been disproportionately affected, and what steps need to be taken to address these disparities in risks and outcomes.


“Health disparities are not new but they can be reduced. As we have passed through different waves of the pandemic, we have seen repeatedly that working with communities, rebuilding trust and confidence in services, tackling vaccine hesitancy, and addressing myths and misinformation head on, all help reduce the devastating impact of the virus.


“Today, the vaccine remains the most effective measure to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the risks of COVID-19. Vaccine hesitancy is reducing, confidence and uptake are increasing across all communities. I urge everyone to get fully vaccinated – this includes getting your first, second dose and booster doses. Vaccines are safe, effective and save lives.”


In the first two waves, the higher death rate seen in ethnic minorities was primarily due to their higher risk of infection compared to Whites – particularly in older age groups. In the third wave, however we are seeing lower infection rates in ethnic minorities than in White people, but rates of hospital admissions and deaths are still higher with the pattern now matching levels of vaccine uptake in higher risk groups. Although vaccine uptake in all ethnic minorities has increased very significantly over the last year, the proportion unvaccinated is twice as high in South Asian people and four times as high in Black people.


This is another reminder that the vaccines are the best way to protect yourselves and your elderly relatives – especially if you live in a multi-generational household – and it is never too late to come and take your first dose. The booster doses are also really important to maximize your protection and reduce your risk as the immunity is now waning.”


Dr Raghib Ali, Senior Clinical Research Associate, University of Cambridge; Consultant Acute Medicine, Oxford University Hospitals; Associate Professor NYU


Further information:


Anyone eligible and currently unvaccinated is encouraged to visit the NHS website to book an appointment or find their nearest walk-in center.


Other significant initiatives to promote vaccine uptake and tackle misinformation include:



An extensive communications campaign, which included the government working with over 90 faith and healthcare provider networks, influencers and experts from a range of communities, and the media – including 50 ethnic minority titles, 43 ethnic minority TV channels, and 14 community radio stations. Alongside this the cross-government Counter Disinformation Unit has acted swiftly to tackle dis- and misinformation, and DCMS launched a campaign to tackle the spread of false information about the vaccine.
Allocating over GBP7 million of funding to local sustainability and transformation partnerships to support and enable locally led community engagement in all areas with health disparities.
Working with faith leaders to promote vaccine uptake, including setting up vaccination centres in around 50 places of worship and using many more as pop-up venues.
Bespoke programs to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence in Black African, Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and other groups, working with religious leaders, other trusted community voices and ethnic minority healthcare workers.
Initiatives targeting religious events such as Easter, Ramadan and Passover to share safety recommendations.
Supporting and advocating the use of mobile and community vaccine pop-ups to increase access to underserved communities, culminating in the launch of the national ‘Grab-A-Jab’ program from July.
Use of vaccination buses that traveled to specific locations, agreed through partnerships with the community, to support increased confidence and outreach, such as the bus in Crawley used to drive uptake in the Hindu community.
A number of measures to improve uptake among ethnic minority healthcare professionals including webinars and question and answer sessions with ethnic minority medics and disseminating guidance on issues such as vaccine ingredients, which were an initial concern for Muslim and ultra-orthodox Jewish staff.
Producing a video with the Chief Midwifery Office, Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, and midwives around the country to address worries regarding pregnancy and infertility.
Creating a national bank of general resources that can be used at a local level (such as translated materials and multimedia) via a Vaccine Equalities Connect and Exchange Hub hosted on the FutureNHS Collaboration Platform. The Hub already has over 2,000 members across the country and information is being shared via initiatives such as lunch and learn sessions on topical areas of interest.

This report makes the following recommendations, which the Prime Minister has accepted in full:



The government and health agencies must build on the success of the COVID-19 vaccination deployment program in reaching ethnic minority groups and apply this to future vaccination programs, including COVID-19 booster vaccinations, winter flu vaccination and childhood immunization programs.
In order to reassure ethnic minority groups and encourage uptake, the government must ensure there is clarity in the communications about the need for COVID-19 boosters and the longer-term plan for COVID-19 vaccination.
To reassure pregnant women that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, the government should continue to deliver clear messaging through trusted voices and via social media.
Government departments, their agencies and the NHS must continue to build trust in health services within ethnic minority groups through optimizing and building on the local partnerships and networks established under the vaccination program.
The successful elements of the vaccination program must also be applied to the work to tackle longer-standing health disparities. This must be a priority for the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and its partners.
To build confidence in future vaccination schemes and other health interventions, the National Institute for Health Research and the NHS Race and Health Observatory should seek to increase ethnic minority participation in clinical trials and research through methods such as promoting the INCLUDE Ethnicity Framework.
The government should continue to monitor the impacts of COVID-19 by ethnicity as the virus evolves. This may include: measuring survival analysis over time monitoring vaccine uptake among 16 to 18 year olds and 12 to 15 year olds and uptake of the booster vaccine The findings and recommendations from this series of reports should be applied to the government’s response to future COVID-19 variants.
DHSC should continue to consider the set of interdependent UISPC recommendations proposed by NHS England to improve the quality of ethnicity data coding, and should outline responsibilities to relevant leads.
ONS should collaborate with the other relevant health departments and consider how linking health and Census data could be improved and extended to facilitate more reliable, timely and detailed estimates of ethnic health disparities on a regular basis.
Relevant health departments and agencies should review and action existing requests for health data, and undertake an independent strategic review of the dissemination of healthcare data and the publication of statistics and analysis.
NHS Digital should include the proportion of records coded as not known, not stated, an ‘other’ group and ‘any other ethnic group’ in the NHS Data Quality Maturity Index.
RDU will discuss ways to improve guidance and signposting for health statistics with the English Health Statistics Steering Group.
A Programme Board, involving representatives of the user community and other relevant stakeholders (including the devolved administrations), should oversee implementation of these priorities and should publish regular reports of progress.
The government and health agencies must implement the lessons learnt from the COVID-19 insights work and in particular:
Address specific ethnic minority groups rather than a homogenous group (through for example use of the term ‘BAME’) and
Ensure that public health communications do not stigmatize ethnic minorities when explaining that they may be more vulnerable or at higher risk
The government should carry out a review of language and terminology around ethnicity to understand how to target messaging without stigmatizing any particular group.
The government should use the COVID-19 experience of reaching ethnic minority groups for future public health campaigns. This should include activities to:
Develop and provide materials in multiple languages and formats, including BSL, easy read and audible formats, to ensure content addresses any difficulties to reach diverse audiences
Build on community partnerships and work closely with local networks to improve understanding and gain insight into the audience
Utilise community partners to co-create content and tailor communications that resonate with key audiences
Communicate key messages through community partners and specialist media and digital channels, using trusted voices to land messaging where necessary

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Genetic bottlenecks could impact Wyoming toads’ ability to respond to new pathogens

Jacob Scott

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A new study from North Carolina State University examines immune system diversity in the critically endangered Wyoming toad and finds that genetic bottlenecks could impact a species’ ability to respond to new pathogens. The findings could inform captive breeding strategies for endangered animal populations.

The Wyoming toad, Anaxyrus baxteri, suffered a severe population decline throughout the latter part of the 20th century due to factors including habitat destruction and fungal infection. The toad was brought into a captive breeding program in the 1990s in order to save the species. Scientists estimate a current wild population of only 400 to 1,500 animals, meaning that the toad is considered critically endangered.

Population reduction in this species created a genetic bottleneck to begin with, meaning the level of genetic diversity is already very small. This is the first study to look specifically at genetic diversity in the immune systems of these toads and how it could impact them as a population.”

Jeff Yoder, professor of comparative immunology at NC State and co-corresponding author of paper

Yoder, with co-corresponding author Alex Dornburg of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, performed RNA sequencing on immune tissues from three healthy, retired Wyoming toad breeders. Study co-author Michael Stoskopf, who was on the Wyoming Toad Recovery Implementation Team established in 2008, obtained the samples.

“We were focused specifically on sequences encoding toll-like receptors – TLRs – and the proteins of the major histocompatibility complex, or MHC, expressed in these tissues,” says Kara Carlson, first author of the study and current Ph.D. candidate at NC State. “These sets of genes are major components of the immune system.”

TLRs are the first responders of the immune system, and are similar, or well-conserved, between species. The MHC, on the other hand, is a large and diverse group of genes that varies between species and individuals. It can determine why one group is more resistant to a particular pathogen than another.

“MHC genes are some of the most rapidly evolving sequences in the genome,” Carlson says. “So in a healthy population there’s a lot of variety that gets passed along to descendants, enabling the species at large to adapt to different pathogens. However, if disease survivors do so because of their MHC, then that group would have a similar MHC.

“The Wyoming toads that were brought into captivity to save the species were all able to resist the fungus that had decimated the population, but that could mean that their immune diversity is reduced.”

The researchers compared the TLR and MHC of the three Wyoming toads to each other, as well as to samples from a common toad and a cane toad. Both the common toad and the cane toad showed more MHC diversity than the Wyoming toad, even though the cane toad underwent a similar genetic bottleneck.

“The small sample size in this study – which was unavoidable due to the endangered status of the toad – nevertheless lays an important framework for conservation,” Carlson says.

“Amphibians in general don’t have as many genomic resources as other organisms,” Yoder says. “And captive breeding from a small population further decreases genetic diversity. But while these toads may be better protected against the fungal infection that nearly wiped them out, they may not be equipped to deal with new pathogens down the road.”

“While we weren’t necessarily surprised by the lack of immunogenic diversity in the Wyoming toad, it does spark an important question,” Dornburg says. “How equipped are other species of conservation concern for a battle with an emergent pathogen?”

“By understanding the genetic diversity of the immune system we can inform captive breeding to increase the chance of a species to resist disease in the wild,” Yoder adds. “Studies like this one are invaluable for captive breeding practices going forward.”

Source:
Journal reference:

Carlson, K.B., et al. (2022) Transcriptome annotation reveals minimal immunogenetic diversity among Wyoming toads, Anaxyrus baxteri. Conservation Genetics. doi.org/10.1007/s10592-022-01444-8.

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Video conferencing hinders creativity

Jacob Scott

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In-person teamwork has now transformed into virtual collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But does this affect innovation and creativity?

An interesting study on virtual communication led by Dr. Melanie S. Brucks from Columbia University and Prof. Jonathan Levav from Stanford University is published in the journal Nature. The study examines whether videoconferencing affects creative idea generation.

Study: Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Image Credit: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Communication and collaboration

Collaboration is essential for several workplace tasks. It leads to innovation and idea generation. Historically, these collaborations have been in-person and required sharing of the same physical space. The use of traditional communication technologies like letters, emails, and phone calls hinder the smooth exchange of information and limits collaboration.

Now, due to advances in audio-visual technology, face-to-face interaction is possible via videoconferencing, allowing virtual collaboration. Videoconferencing has replaced in-person interactions due to pandemic-driven social distancing. Video interaction and in-person interaction allow communication of the same information.

While videoconferencing replacing in-person interaction has been beneficial in the social scenario, does it come with a cost in the workplace scenario? For example, does it affect collaborative idea generation?

Experiments

The investigators performed a Laboratory experiment and a field experiment to test the difference between in-person interaction and videoconferencing in collaborative idea generation. First, they recruited participants and divided them into pairs: half of the pairs were assigned to an in-person setting, and the rest were assigned to a virtual setting.

Laboratory experiment

A total of 602 participants were recruited for the laboratory experiment and divided into pairs. The participants were in separate rooms in the virtual setting and communicated through videoconferencing. The pairs were allotted five minutes to generate creative uses for a frisbee (150 pairs) or bubble wrap (151 pairs) and then one minute to select their most innovative idea.

The pairs were evaluated by counting the number of creative ideas and ideas they generated. The virtual pairs generated significantly fewer total and creative ideas compared to in-person pairs.

So, virtual collaboration hampered creative ideas. This could be because the virtual space narrows the visual scope, which in turn narrows the cognitive scope. To assess the visual focus, two methods were used. Firstly, the participants had to recollect the individual props in the room and point them on a worksheet. Secondly, the participants’ eye gaze was recorded during the experiment.

The virtual pairs narrowed their focus to the screen. Compared to in-person pairs, they spent significantly more time looking directly at their partner and less time looking at the surrounding room, and remembered significantly fewer props in the surrounding room.

As a consequence, the virtual medium narrowed the visual focus and inhibited the generation of ideas.

However, these results are in the context of a controlled laboratory setting.

Field experiment

The experiment was repeated in ‘the field’ under actual work conditions within a large multinational telecommunications company to see if these results could be extrapolated to the real world. The field experiment was conducted in five country sites – in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. In this setting, the participants knew their partners and used video conferencing regularly for work. Moreover, it included domain experts highly invested in the outcome of the collaboration.

A total of 1,490 engineers were recruited to participate in an ideation workshop and randomly divided into pairs. The pairs were allotted an hour to generate product ideas and submit one idea as future product innovation for the company.

The engineer pairs who worked on the task virtually generated fewer total ideas and creative ideas than in-person pairs at all five sites.

However, the decision quality was not affected by virtual collaboration. The in-person pairs generated a significantly higher top-scoring idea, but the selected idea did not significantly differ in quality between the virtual pairs and in-person pairs.

Other reasons for reduced creativity

The could be other reasons why virtual collaboration negatively affected idea generation. Therefore, the investigators explored the alternative explanations.

More ideas

Since the in-person collaborators generated more total and creative ideas than the virtual collaborators, they could generate additional ideas similar to each other. However, upon semantic analysis, it was observed that they generated diverse and disconnected ideas.

Feelings of connection and trust

Studies have shown that feelings of connection and trust can foster team creativity. The virtual pairs may have reduced feelings of connection and trust toward their partner.

However, when assessed for subjective feelings of closeness, verbal and non-verbal behaviors, and mimicry, the virtual pairs were similar to in-person pairs in the laboratory experiment.

Thus, virtual and in-person interactions are very similar in terms of social connection or social behavior.

Communication coordination

Usually, there is a lack of coordination in a conversation in virtual interactions due to the absence of eye contact. However, it could not wholly explain the effect of virtual interaction on idea generation.

Interpersonal processes

This study also assessed the effect of interpersonal processes on idea generation. Interpersonal processes fear of evaluation, dominance, social facilitation, social loafing, social sensitivity, perceptions of performance, and production blocking were affected in virtual collaborations and these, in turn, affected idea generation.

Implications of the study

This study supports previous research suggesting that pairs perform better than large groups, both in-person and online. Therefore, this study recommends ideation in pairs and in person. Also, this study suggests that larger videoconferencing screens would not impact idea generation.

In-person collaborations offer a cognitive advantage. Now several workplaces are moving towards a hybrid setup. This study indicates that the creative idea generation should be reserved for in-person meetings.

Journal reference:
Brucks, M.S., Levav, J. (2022) Virtual communication curbs creative idea generation. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04643-y, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04643-y

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Gum Health Day 2022 calls for prevention, early detection, and effective treatment of gum diseases

Jacob Scott

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“Treat your gums” is the slogan for Gum Health Day 2022, a worldwide awareness campaign organized by the European Federation of Periodontology (EFP). The event aims to inform the public of the detrimental effects of gum diseases – gingivitis, periodontitis, peri-implant mucositis, and peri-implantitis – on both oral and overall health. The campaign calls for the prevention, early detection, and – where necessary – effective treatment of gum diseases.

Although still poorly acknowledged by the public, gum diseases are chronic inflammatory conditions affecting a high proportion of adults worldwide, causing tooth loss and other problems in the mouth. Crucially, gum diseases are also linked to major systemic health issues including diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, erectile dysfunction, certain forms of cancer, and more severe Covid-19 outcomes. This means that gum diseases and their prevention and treatment are of major importance not only for oral health, but also for the whole body.

This year’s campaign focuses heavily on the treatment part – we know that millions of people suffer from gum diseases that can be treated effectively. ‘Treat your gums’ calls for this treatment – with all the documented positive effects for the mouth and whole body – to actually happen.”

Moritz Kebschull, coordinator of Gum Health Day 2022

That is why the hashtag for the campaign is #TreatYourGums, and why the recent EFP-produced clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of periodontitis are a major part of the Gum Health Day 2022 initiative.

“The new EFP-produced clinical practice guidelines on the treatment of all four stages of periodontitis are a crucial development, as they are the first high-quality international guidelines to outline a structured and easily implemented pathway for the efficient and effective treatment of gum disease,” Prof. Kebschull says. “In a nutshell, gum disease treatment that works!”

He adds: “It is important to underline that gum disease is one of the most widespread chronic diseases in the worldwide adult population, and that it is usually painless, so its early detection and successful treatment depends heavily on how fast the patient takes action.”

A major innovation of Gum Health Day 2022 is an EFP-designed “customized content generator”, a feature that allows the federation’s 37 affiliated national societies of periodontology, their individual members – as well as practices, hospitals, and members of the public – to customise their own Gum Health Day 2022 materials, based on a series of graphic templates and catchphrases.

In the framework of Gum Health Day 2022, the EFP encourages periodontists, dentists, researchers, and other health-related professionals to sign and disseminate the EFP Manifesto: Perio and General Health, an international call to action for the prevention, early detection, and treatment of gum disease. Individuals and organisations are invited to endorse it and join the 1,200+ professionals, dental practices, companies, and universities that have so far supported it.


The European Federation of Periodontology (EFP, ww.efp.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of periodontal science and the importance of gum health. Its guiding vision is “periodontal health for a better life.”

Founded in 1991, the EFP is a federation of 37 national periodontal societies that represents more than 16,000 periodontists, dentists, researchers, and oral-health professionals from Europe and around the world. It supports evidence-based science in periodontal and oral health, and it promotes events and campaigns aimed at both professionals and the public.

The EFP organizes EuroPerio, the world’s leading congress in periodontology and implant dentistry, as well as other important professional and expert events such as Perio Master Clinic and Perio Workshop. The annual Gum Health Day on May 12, organized by the EFP and its member societies, brings key messages on gum health to millions of people across the world.

The EFP also organizes workshops and outreach campaigns with its partners: projects to date have covered the relationship between periodontal disease and diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and caries, as well as women’s oral health during pregnancy.

The EFP’s Journal of Clinical Periodontology is the most authoritative scientific publication in this field. The federation also publishes JCP Digest, a monthly digest of research, and the Perio Insight magazine, which features experts’ views and debates.

The EFP’s work in education is also highly significant, notably its accreditation programme for postgraduate education in periodontology and implant dentistry.

The EFP has no professional or commercial agenda.

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