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Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2020

Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2020

Below are newsworthy items compiled by the HealthDay staff:


WHO Experts Arrive in China Thursday to Probe COVID-19 Origins

After a long delay, World Health Organization experts are expected to arrive in China on Thursday to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to officials.

China's National Health Commission said the WHO team will meet with Chinese counterparts, but it wasn't clear if they'll go to the city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected in late 2019, the Associated Press reported.

The exact origins of the virus remain unclear, but a leading theory is that it was carried by bats and passed to humans through an intermediary species of animal, sold as food or medicine in traditional Chinese "wet markets."

China has stalled on admitting the independent group of WHO experts into the country, the AP noted. As well, China's government has strictly controlled all research at home into the origins of the virus, according to an investigation carried out by the news agency. At the same time, state-owned media have played up fringe theories that suggest the virus could have originated elsewhere.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, said in a daily briefing for reporters that the the arrival of the WHO team is "an opportunity to "exchange views with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific cooperation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus."

"Along with continuous changes in the epidemic situation, our knowledge of the virus deepens, and more early cases are discovered," Zhao said, the AP reported.


Two Billion COVID-19 Vaccine Doses From BioNTech This Year

A boost in manufacturing should enable Germany's BioNTech to produce 2 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine this year, the company says.

BioNTech and partner Pfizer developed the first COVID-19 vaccination to be brought to market.

With three manufacturing sites in the United States and three in Europe operating or starting up soon, BioNTech expects to about double the number of doses available for this fiscal year, according to company CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin, the Associated Press reported.

The company's also looking to widen eligibility for the vaccine -- which was 95% effective in trials -- to include pregnant women, children and others.

As of Jan 10, 32.9 million doses of its vaccine had been shipped, according to BioNTech, the AP reported.

The vaccine has to be stored at extremely cold temperatures, but the company said it's working on a more stable version for easier use in remote regions.


LA Will Continue to Use Coronavirus Test Flagged by FDA

A coronavirus test that may sometimes give false results will continue to be used in Los Angeles, while Congress will instead turn to a different test.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the test from California company Curative could produce false negatives, leading people with the virus to unknowingly spread it, the Associated Press reported.

The test is used by at least three of the largest U.S. cities, the AP reported.

The FDA action came after the company tried to expand testing beyond what it was originally approved for, which was in people with symptoms such as fever, sore throat and fatigue, or those exposed to the virus, Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, Curative's acting medical director, told the AP.

The company submitted research to support authorization to test individuals without symptoms or exposure to the virus who could self-administer the test without supervision.

"The answer is it works pretty well, but not well enough that it gave the FDA confidence to expand ... authorization to that population," Klausner said.

He didn't provide numbers on the test's efficacy to the AP, but said it didn't pick up the virus in the later stages in asymptomatic people. He said the FDA's action was a reminder to stick to the intended purpose of the test it approved.

Still, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he continues to back the Curative test, the AP reported.


Queen Elizabeth II Gets COVID Shot

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip received COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday, according to Buckingham Palace officials.

The 94-year-old monarch and her husband, 99, received their first vaccine dose at Windsor Castle, where they've remained during the lockdown in England, CBS News reported.

The rare step of commenting on the queen's health was taken to prevent inaccuracies and further speculation, according to royal officials.

The queen "decided that she would let it be known she has had the vaccination," according to the palace statement, CBS News reported.

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