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Labour calls for UK crackdown on tech firms over anti-vax content | Vaccines and immunisation

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Ministers have been urged to take tougher action against companies that fail to stamp out anti-vaccination content online, as it was revealed posters with hundreds of thousands of followers on social media are still churning out disinformation.

After Boris Johnson said that up to 90% of patients with Covid in intensive care across England had not had their third booster vaccine, Labour accused the government of being complacent on “a matter of life and death” and failing to stand up to social media giants.

Prominent anti-vaxxers on Instagram, Facebook and Telegram still have nearly 1.5 million followers, analysis compiled by Labour showed. The most popular were in the name of David Icke, a conspiracy theorist who wrongly believes that coronavirus is spread by 5G.

Some disinformation is also hosted on an alternative streaming site – BrandNewTube – a link to which is then posted on other, mainstream social media sites.

Videos have amassed up to 3.7m views, sparking fears that during a crucial stage in the booster programme some people are being put off getting jabbed. Around 10% of eligible people have not had their first vaccine, rising to 17% for a second dose. The booster rollout is still under way but 42% of people have not yet had a third vaccine.

The shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, said the continuing spread of vaccine misinformation online “is hitting vaccine uptake, and tackling this is critical to getting the unvaccinated vaccinated”.

Given the government has urged everyone eligible for a booster vaccine to take up the offer, she added: “One person put off the vaccine by dangerous anti-vaxxers is one too many.”

Powell said tech giants were “failing to wipe out vaccine lies” and that “government complacency on fake news means that they are failing to take action against online platforms that are facilitating the spread of disinformation”. She called it as “matter of life and death” and called on ministers to stand up to social media firms, “ignore their excuses, and introduce financial and criminal penalties for failures that lead to serious harm”.

It was also claimed that a government-commissioned body known as the counter disinformation policy forum was wound down in June 2021. It had brought together social media companies, academics and fact-checkers in response to fears about the harm posed by anti-vaxxers.

Powell asked for an update on the forum in a parliamentary written question, but in his answer DCMS minister Chris Philp said it had “concluded”. He added the department still “regularly meets with major social media platforms bilaterally” to discuss the issue.

A government spokesperson said ministers had “been providing people with advice and information about vaccines in one of the most extensive public health campaigns ever launched”.

They added that although a pilot had ended in the summer a counter-disinformation unit still exists and “continues to work closely with social media companies to identify and remove dangerous disinformation about vaccines”.

The spokesperson said: “Our tough new online safety laws will force these companies into action. Now that parliament has provided the necessary scrutiny of the legislation, we will introduce it as soon as possible.”

A senior government source said: “It’s a real shame that Labour are spreading their own misinformation in a desperate attempt to score political points in the fight against the virus. The counter disinformation unit continues to carry out its work and has not been stood down.”

Just before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the World Health Organization said in 2019 that vaccine hesitancy was one of the top 10 threats to global health and that it was important people were given “credible information” about inoculation to understand the benefits of getting jabbed.

Last October the Guardian revealed lies and conspiracy theories about Covid-19 had amassed millions of views on TikTok and were accessible to young children.

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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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