Health Highlights: Oct. 20, 2020

By on October 20, 2020

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Scientists to Infect Volunteers With Coronavirus in Challenge Trial

British scientists are infecting healthy volunteers with the coronavirus, in hopes of speeding up vaccine development, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Led by scientists at Imperial College London, people in this challenge trial will be guaranteed treatment if they become ill.

The United States says human challenge trials might be too risky or unnecessary. But for the British, the payoff could push vaccine development ahead by three months, which could save hundreds of thousands of lives, the Post reported.

The experiment will start in January. Between 50 and 90 healthy young adults will be given a lab-grown strain of the live virus while quarantined. The goal is to determine the least amount of virus needed to cause an active, measurable infection.

In the spring, scientists hope to have more volunteers who will be given vaccines and exposed to the virus to see how well the vaccines work, the Post reported.

Andrew Catchpole, chief science officer for hVIVO, a commercial pharmaceutical company that will recruit the volunteers, manufacture the challenge strain of the virus, and conduct the tests, told the Post it is not yet known which vaccines may be tested. Possible candidates include vaccines that have proven themselves in large, phase 3 trials or ones that may be earlier in their development but look promising.

Leon McFarlane, a research technician at Imperial College, said the major advantage is “you get efficacy data so much sooner” than trials that rely on chance exposure.

Challenge trials have a long history, going back to Edward Jenner’s development of a smallpox vaccine in 1796. In modern times, challenge trials have been used to study and find treatments for influenza, malaria, typhoid, dengue fever and cholera, the Post reported.

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No COVID Vaccines in California Without State Approval

California isn’t going to allow the use of any coronavirus vaccines until its own panel of experts approves them, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.

Vaccinations “will move at the speed of trust,” Newsom said, and the state wants its own review regardless of who wins the presidential election, the Associated Press reported.

“Of course, we won’t take anyone’s word for it,” Newsom, a Democrat, said. The governor named 11 doctors and scientists who will review any vaccines approved by the federal government or vaccine developers.

Newsom’s statement may mean that Californians won’t get a vaccine as distribution starts in other states, the AP said.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, told the AP that the people on the panel are a renowned group and should be able to make credible decisions fast.

“I wouldn’t interpret this as a delay in distribution. I would interpret this as an effort to make sure that distribution is equitable and timely,” he said. “The people in this group are among the most reputable public health advocates in the state.”

The group includes current and former members of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Klausner noted, so any disagreement with the federal panel “could have substantial impact on that particular vaccine product.”

Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed a similar task force, the AP reported.

The announcement was criticized by Republican state lawmakers.

“Politicizing the efficacy of a vaccine is shameful,” tweeted Sen. Melissa Melendez, who said the governor “used the virus to keep people from working, kids from going to school [and] families from being able to attend funerals,” the AP reported.

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Secret New Organs in the Center of Your Head?

Dutch researchers have found what might be a set of previously unknown large salivary glands in the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat, the New York Times reported Monday.

If confirmed, these glands could be the first of their kind discovered in about 300 years. Modern anatomy books show only three types of salivary glands, a set near the ears, another below the jaw and a third under the tongue. “Now, we think there is a fourth,” researcher Dr. Matthijs Valstar, a surgeon at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, told the Times.

The report was published recently in the journal Radiotherapy and Oncology.

Dr. Valerie Fitzhugh, a pathologist at Rutgers University, who wasn’t involved in the research, told the Times that although the study was small, “it seems like they may be onto something. If it’s real, it could change the way we look at disease in this region.”

Dr. Yvonne Mowery, a radiation oncologist at Duke University in North Carolina, told the paper she “was quite shocked that we are in 2020 and have a new structure identified in the human body.”

It’s not clear how these glands hid for so long. But, “the location is not very accessible, and you need very sensitive imaging to detect it,” researcher Dr. Wouter Vogel, a radiation oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, told the Times.

This finding might help explain why people who undergo radiation therapy of the head or neck often end up with chronic dry mouth and swallowing problems, Vogel said.

Dr. Alvand Hassankhani, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, told the Times he isn’t sure these are “new organs.” It’s possible the Dutch researchers found a better way to see a set of minor glands, he explained.

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Trump’s Promised Prescription Drug Card Program Stalled

It’s unlikely that the Trump administration’s plan to mail $200 prescription savings cards to millions of seniors will happen before the election.

Legal and budget concerns have slowed a review of the plan by agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Associated Press reported.

Trump announced the plan last month during a health care speech.

A White House official had no comment on the status of the prescription card plan, the AP reported.

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