Guest Author

This is the Sciblogs guest blog, where we run science-related submissions from the Sciblogs community and beyond. Contact Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin about making a submission - or about hosting a blog on Sciblogs.

A Māori health expert reports from the Super Saturday frontlines - COVID-19

Oct 17, 2021

Rawiri Jansen, National Hauora Coalition I write this as I charge my car, getting ready to head home at the end of a pretty good Super Saturday. It started with coffee and checking the news feeds as any good day should. Between 9 and 10 am as I drove to the first Covid Vaccination event I made a couple of calls. Firstly trying to expand our call centre capacity to call out to Māori patients not yet vaccinated. We have got the COVID Immunisation Register data matched across our primary health clinics and we need to scale up as we roll out to support other Primary Health Organisations. We have two iwi provider call centres joining in, a culturally concordant workforce is essential, and the National Hauora Coalition (NHC) has a technology that … Read More

Why Jacinda Ardern’s ‘clumsy’ leadership response to Delta could still be the right approach - COVID-19

Oct 15, 2021

Suze Wilson, Massey University   Leading people through the pandemic is clearly no easy task. But does the criticism currently directed at New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reveal a major misstep on her part, or something deeper about the nature of leadership itself? Ardern has previously won widespread praise for her COVID-19 response and crisis communication, topping Fortune magazine’s “world’s greatest leaders” list in 2021. Focused on minimising harm to both lives and livelihoods, her pandemic leadership has comprised three main strands: reliance on expert advice, mobilising collective effort and cushioning the pandemic’s disruptive effects. These built the trust needed to secure high levels of voluntary compliance for measures designed to limit the spread of the virus. Then came the Delta outbreak in mid-August, which sees Auckland still under lockdown measures nearly eight weeks later. Read More

Humans are driving animals and plants to the edge. But are we really heading into a mass extinction? - News

Oct 15, 2021

Michael Hannah, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington   It is now common to refer to the current biodiversity crisis as the sixth mass extinction. But is this true? Are we in the middle of an event on the same scale as the five ancient mass extinctions Earth has experienced? Humans are indeed driving animals and plants to extinction. Land clearance, habitat modification and, above all, climate change are all placing biodiversity under stress. Many species have died out since the arrival of humans and many more are threatened. But to answer this question fully, we have to look at the rates at which species were going extinct before the appearance of humans and compare it to today’s rate. Life on Earth has diversified from a single cell more than 3.7 billion years ago to the estimated … Read More

How a random sampling regime could help detect COVID and highlight infection hotspots - COVID-19

Oct 15, 2021

Stephen John Haslett, Massey University and Richard Arnold, Te Herenga Waka — Victoria University of Wellington   For the detection of community transmission of COVID-19, New Zealand currently relies on contact tracing, testing of self-selected people with symptoms and those with permission to travel between different alert levels, and surveillance testing of staff at businesses permitted to operate in higher alert levels. Surveillance testing has picked up cases before they knew they were contacts of another infected person. But people who are only tested after they feel unwell may have already passed the virus on to several others. Others who have COVID-19 may not display symptoms. As a supplement to current testing, we suggest a sound, properly designed random sampling regime of certain areas or workplaces to provide a cost-effective way to determine, with known probability, … Read More

Why it’s time to treat medicinal cannabis as an alternative therapy, not a pharmaceutical - News

Oct 15, 2021

Marta Rychert, Massey University; Chris Wilkins, Massey University, and Vinuli Withanarachchie, Massey University   The recent approval of two domestically produced cannabidiol (CBD) oil products – non-intoxicating cannabis compounds – may have provided new optimism to patients on cannabis prescriptions. Slow progress with product approvals had meant some patients had feared they would need to turn to the black market. Yet these new approvals are hardly consolation for the majority of people who continue to self-medicate with illegally sourced cannabis, including via “green fairies”, personal networks, drug dealers or by growing their own. Many of those are the very communities that advocated for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis in the first place, but which currently remain outside the tenuous legal system. After years of anticipation and 18 months since the establishment of the Medicinal Cannabis Scheme … Read More

No, COVID-19 vaccines don’t affect women’s fertility - COVID-19

Oct 13, 2021

Michelle Wise, University of Auckland   Some women are holding off on being vaccinated against COVID-19 because of concerns the jab could affect their fertility, at times taking to social media to voice their concerns. Anti-vaccination campaigners appear to be fuelling these fears and misleading women into thinking the vaccine may affect their chance of getting pregnant now or in future, or increase their risk of a miscarriage. But there is no research evidence to support these claims. The science shows COVID vaccines have no effect on fertility, do not impact the chance of a miscarriage, and are safe and effective while pregnant. COVID-19, however, can cause severe disease in pregnant women. Currently one in six of the most critically ill COVID patients in the UK are unvaccinated pregnant women. Where did the fertility myth come from? Myths about … Read More

Many e-cigarette vaping liquids contain toxic chemicals: new Australian research - Hot off the press

Oct 13, 2021

Alexander Larcombe, Telethon Kids Institute   From October 1, it’s been illegal to buy e-liquids containing nicotine without a prescription from a doctor everywhere in Australia, except South Australia. But vaping with nicotine-free e-liquids is not illegal in Australia (though in some jurisdictions the e-cigarette devices themselves are illegal). Vaping is increasing in popularity in Australia, particularly among young people. I co-led a research team that wanted to find out what’s in the nicotine free e-liquids that vapers inhale, and their potential health effects. Our study, published this week in The Medical Journal of Australia, found most e-liquids contained chemicals known to cause respiratory issues and lung damage when inhaled. Most contained ingredients that have since been banned by Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). We also found all e-liquids contained substances for which the … Read More

Multiple sclerosis: the link with earlier infection just got stronger – new study - Hot off the press

Oct 12, 2021

Scott Montgomery, UCL For most of the time since the first description of multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1868, the causes of this disabling disease have remained uncertain. Genes have been identified as important, which is why having other family members with MS is associated with a greater risk of developing the disease. A recent study my colleagues and I conducted found that several types of infection during the teenage years are associated with MS after age 20. Our study didn’t investigate whether people who are more likely to have genetic risks for MS were also more likely to have worse infections. This might explain why people with MS also have more infections that need hospital treatment. If this were the explanation, the infection would not be a risk factor triggering MS, it would only identify those more likely … Read More

Hit hard by the pandemic, researchers expect its impacts to linger for years - COVID-19

Oct 12, 2021

Sora Park, University of Canberra; Jennie Scarvell, University of Canberra, and Linda Botterill, University of Canberra   The impacts of COVID-19 on Australian university researchers are likely to have consequences for research productivity and quality for many years to come. According to an online survey of academics at the University of Canberra between November 2020 and February 2021, they have deep concerns about their ability to undertake research during the pandemic and the flow-on effects of this. The findings are consistent with those of Research Australia from research in 2020 and 2021 and suggest Australia’s research sector will take a substantive hit from COVID-19. The knowledge produced by university research generates an estimated 10% of Australia’s GDP. Without access to JobKeeper in 2020, universities across the sector cut back on casual staff and increased the teaching load … Read More

To be truly ethical, vaccine mandates must be about more than just lifting jab rates - COVID-19

Oct 12, 2021

Matheson Russell, University of Auckland   As New Zealand’s race to lift vaccination rates continues, and with pressure to lift social and economic restrictions too, the role of vaccine mandates is coming into sharper focus. Yesterday the government signalled stricter rules will apply in health and education. But while public sentiment appears to be on the side of mandatory vaccination for certain sectors, mandates are still a big stick for governments to wield. In particular, the threat of losing a job for not being vaccinated comes close to compulsion. That’s why it’s controversial, and why it needs to clear a high threshold of justification. Before imposing mandates, governments have an obligation to provide trustworthy information about the risks and benefits of vaccines, to encourage as many eligible people as possible to get vaccinated, and to ensure vaccines … Read More