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I’m a UK Covid scientist. Here’s a sample of the abuse in my inbox | John Edmunds

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“You scaremongering ignorant fucking cunt, you and your retarded team made predictions that could have fucked this country for billions of pounds, fucked Christmas for a second time and cost thousands thier [sic] jobs only to have your most pessimistic ballshit [sic] now found to be just that. How fucks like you can sleep at night is beyond me and I hope you are fucking held to account for what you have done and could have done if there weren’t some people in the government with a brain.”

How would you like to get this in your inbox? As a senior scientist advising the government on Covid, I get this sort of email on a fairly regular basis. Indeed, (someone calling himself) Mr Roberts (who sent this) is a regular offender. What particularly upset me about this email was that it wasn’t sent to me, but to a junior member of my team. Awful, isn’t it?

Although this is a typical email from Roberts, it is not altogether typical of the genre. Roberts’s spelling is generally good and his sentences might be a bit long, but the grammar is usually sound. Most letter-writers have at best a very basic grasp of the English language – enough to get their point across, but extremely rudimentary. The spelling really is shocking. Sometimes it makes me wonder about the mental state of the sender; whether they are from the UK at all (Russian call centres come to mind); or whether they were even written by a human. I find it strangely comforting to think that some of them might have been generated by a clever bit of computer code rather than an angry, deluded member of our society.

Other things that I have learned is that if you mention vaccination in the media, particularly vaccination of children, then there is likely to be a reaction. However, this only occurs if one’s comments are picked up by the rightwing press – particularly the Daily Mail. The letter-writers also seem to use the same tropes, like the phrase “tick tock” (sometimes just that) or the Nuremberg trials and, of course, Bill Gates (who must get this stuff by the bucketload every day). This rehashing of the same motifs sometimes leads me to believe that there is a coordinated campaign, or at least that these ideas are circulating somewhere and they cut and paste them into their letters to my colleagues and I.

But it isn’t all bad. Sometimes you get someone who is genuinely concerned and/or confused. I always reply to these letters. If I can help explain the science or the risks so that they come to a more informed decision, then I feel I have done my job.

Then there are the slightly more outre examples. There is an artist who occasionally sends me a picture of a misty landscape or a still life – wonderfully touching and thought-provoking – and the musician who dubbed one of my Radio 4 interviews over his song. Bonkers, but it worked.

And perhaps that is the lesson. There are some people out there who might need help, some rude and threatening types who really need to look at themselves, some confused souls who need advice, and some magical, whimsical sorts who just need to carry on doing what they do. Help those who need it, block out the idiots (spam filters are great) and concentrate on the wonderful, the wacky and the profound. Happy new year!

John Edmunds is a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage)

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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