DAILY DOSE: The Covid-19 immunity mystery; This animal’s sex drive ends up killing it.

While the Covid-19 pandemic may be old news, there are still infinitely more unknowns compared to knowns. Even basic questions remain unanswered. One of them is the question of immunity and how long it lasts. Per Nature,

Three years into the pandemic, the immune systems of the vast majority of humans have learnt to recognize SARS-CoV-2 through vaccination, infection or, in many cases, both. But just how quickly do these types of immunity fade?

New evidence suggests that ‘hybrid’ immunity, the result of both vaccination and a bout of COVID-19, can provide partial protection against reinfection for at least eight months1. It also offers greater than 95% protection against severe disease or hospitalization for between six months and a year after an infection or vaccination, according to estimates from a meta-analysis2. Immunity acquired by booster vaccination alone seems to fade somewhat faster.

But the durability of immunity is much more complex than the numbers suggest. How long the immune system can fend off SARS-CoV-2 infection depends not only on how much immunity wanes over time but also on how well immune cells recognize their target. “And that has more to do with the virus and how much it mutates,” says Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson. If a new variant finds ways to escape the existing immune response, then even a recent infection might not guarantee protection.

The fact that this virus manages to mutate just enough to spawn variant upon variant makes you think immunity won’t last long. https://bit.ly/3Y5TOZa

As a direct result of Sars-CoV-2’s ability to mutate, vaccines will likely go the way of the influenza vaccine. Nature provides an illustrated guide to future Covid-19 vaccines for anyone interested. 

Vaccines against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 have been given to billions of people to protect them from COVID-19, and have saved more than 20 million lives. But viral variants can evade some of the immunity provided by the original vaccines. As a result, vaccine developers around the world are working on dozens of ‘next-generation’ COVID-19 vaccines: not just updates of the first versions, but ones that use new technologies and platforms.

These vaccines are a diverse group, but the overarching aim is to deliver long-lasting protection that is resilient to viral change. Some could protect against broader classes of coronavirus, including ones that have yet to emerge. Others might provide more potent immunity, might do so at lower doses, or might be better at preventing infection or transmission of the virus.

I can hear anti-vaxers around the world hyperventilating now. https://bit.ly/3HvFeDa

People can argue about climate change till their blue in the face. Good for them. However, there’s another man-made problem that shouldn’t be up for much debate – the terrible effect pollution is having on our oceans and its inhabitants. Per the Associated Press,

A whale that washed ashore in Hawaii over the weekend likely died in part because it ate large volumes of fishing traps, fishing nets, plastic bags and other marine debris, scientists said Thursday, highlighting the threat to wildlife from the millions of tons of plastic that ends up in oceans every year.

The body of the 56-foot (17-meter) long, 120,000-pound (54,431-kilogram) animal was first noticed on a reef off Kauai on Friday. High tide brought it ashore on Saturday.

Kristi West, the director of the University of Hawaii’s Health and Stranding Lab, said there were enough foreign objects in the opening of the whale’s intestinal tract to block food.

“The presence of undigested fish and squid lends further evidence of a blockage,” she said in a news release from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.

The whale’s stomach contained six hagfish traps, seven types of fishing net, two types of plastic bags, a light protector, fishing line and a float from a net. Researchers also found squid beaks, fish skeleton and remains of other prey in the whale’s stomach.

Seeing is believing, as they say. http://bit.ly/3l9DzLU

In clear illustration of Bono’s immortal lines in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, Smithsonian magazine profiled an animal so obsessed with sex that it’s killing them. According to the article,

Male northern quolls in Australia are so focused on sex that they’re dropping dead from exhaustion, new research suggests. 

The small, spotted marsupials employ a mating strategy called semelparity, sometimes referred to as suicidal reproduction. This means the males only survive for one mating season, while females can live and breed for around four years. The practice isn’t unheard of: 19 marsupial species in the family Dasyuridae, which includes quolls, are semelparous. Pacific salmon die after spawning, and some octopuses self-destruct after laying eggs.

Smaller semelparous mammals ultimately perish from a flood of stress hormones after mating, writes Donna Lu for the Guardian. But male quolls show no signs of these hormonal changes at their time of death, so scientists didn’t know what causes their early demise.

So tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you. http://bit.ly/3Y395tQ

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: Wildlife Explorer.

ON SALE! Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

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