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Health Highlights: Oct. 21, 2020

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

COVID-Related Deaths Hit 300,000: CDC

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that as of early October nearly 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

These deaths include those directly caused by the virus and almost 100,000 that would not have happened if not for the virus. These include deaths from COVID-19 that were misclassified or missed and deaths from heart attacks that weren't treated because victims were afraid to go to the hospital, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The largest percentage increase in excess deaths is among young adults aged 25 to 44, a 27% increase, compared with a 14% increase among those over 85.

Excess deaths among Blacks and Hispanics of all ages also rose, compared with past years -- 33% and 54% respectively. Among whites, the increase in deaths was 12%, according to the CDC.


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.


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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