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Health Highlights: Feb. 9, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

South Africa Considering Johnson & Johnson Vaccine as Next Step

Giving a COVID-19 vaccine that's still being tested to health workers is one option being considered by South Africa after it delayed the introduction of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

That was done because preliminary findings suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine is only minimally effective in preventing mild to moderate cases of illness caused by the coronavirus variant that's dominant in the country, the Associated Press reported.

Officials are now weighing giving Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine -- which hasn't been approved by any country -- to 100,000 health care workers while assessing how effective it is against the variant.

Another possible option is to mix the AstraZeneca vaccine with another one, the AP reported.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 57% effective in South Africa at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, according to early findings from an international trial.

"We can't wait. We already have good local data," said Dr. Glenda Gray, director of the South Africa Medical Research Council, who led the South African part of the international trial. Like AstraZeneca's vaccine, it is also easier to handle than the super-frozen vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

South Africa's strategy is being watched globally because the variant first detected and now dominant there is now spreading in more than 30 countries, the AP reported. Officials say this form of the virus is more contagious, and evidence is emerging that it may also cause more serious disease. Recent studies have also shown it can infect people who have survived the original form of the virus.

Hackers Try to Poison Florida City's Water Supply

Investigators are trying to find out who tried to remotely poison the water supply in the Tampa Bay city of Oldsmar.

Officials said the online attacker(s) used the water plant's computer to change sodium hydroxide levels in the water supply from about 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, CBS News reported.

When the breaches were noticed on Friday morning, the plant operator took immediate action to restore safe levels.

"This is obviously a significant and potentially dangerous increase," said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, CBS News reported. "Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, is the main ingredient in liquid drain cleaners."

Ingesting large amounts of sodium hydroxide can cause vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oldsmar is about 30 miles away from Raymond James Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held two days after the online attack.

Secret Service and FBI cyber units are trying to identify who was behind the hack and whether it originated in the United States or in another country, CBS News reported.

Unlikely That Coronavirus Leaked From Chinese Lab: WHO Expert

It's unlikely that the new coronavirus leaked from a Chinese lab, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said Tuesday.

Instead, the virus most probably jumped to humans through an intermediary species, Peter Ben Embarek, a food safety and animal diseases expert, said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

He was summing up a WHO team's investigation into the possible origins of the new coronavirus in the city of Wuhan. That's where the first cases were identified in December 2019.

There have been unproven allegations that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, something strongly denied by China, the AP reported.

Along with the institute, the WHO team visited hospitals, research institutes, a market tied to the outbreak and other sites.

The visit by the WHO team took months to negotiate after China only agreed to it amid massive international pressure at the World Health Assembly meeting last May.

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