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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2020


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

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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No Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine Before Election

Pfizer won't apply for emergency authorization of its coronavirus vaccine before the third week in November, the company's chief executive said in a statement posted to Pfizer's website on Friday.

The reversal from the company's previous claims that it would apply for the approval in October is a blow to U.S. President Donald Trump, who repeatedly said that a vaccine would be available before Election Day on Nov. 3, The New York Times reported.

Even though Pfizer could have preliminary data about the vaccine's effectiveness by the end of October, gathering safety and manufacturing data would take until at least the third week of November, Dr. Albert Bourla said in the statement.

Pfizer's announcement was welcomed by some scientists.

"This is good, really good," Dr. Eric Topol, a clinical trial expert at Scripps Research in San Diego, told The Times. He was one of 60 public health officials and other medical experts who sent a letter to Pfizer urging it not to rush its vaccine, The Times reported.

Pfizer is one of four companies with a coronavirus vaccine in late-stage clinical trials in the United States. The others are Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer has given the most optimistic timeline, while the other three have said later this year is more likely.

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Remdesivir Doesn't Reduce COVID-19 Patients' Risk of Death: Study

The antiviral drug remdesivir doesn't reduce COVID-19 patients' risk of death, a new study says.

The World Health Organization-sponsored study of the drug -- the only antiviral authorized for treatment of COVID-19 in the United States --included more than 11,000 people in 30 countries, The New York Times reported.

The findings were posted online on Thursday, but have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

"This puts the issue to rest -- there is certainly no mortality benefit," Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Alberta in Canada, told The Times.

However, another infectious-disease expert expressed caution about the findings.

A large trial like this that's conducted in numerous countries with different health care systems can result in inconsistent treatment protocols whose effects can be difficult to analyze, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, University of California, San Francisco, told The Times.

"So much goes into care," he said. "The drug is only part of it."

Remdesivir's maker, Gilead, challenged the study's findings. The company said more rigorous studies had found a benefit, The Times reported.

Remdesivir was granted emergency authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May after a U.S. National Institutes of Health study concluded that the drug modestly reduced the time to recovery in severely ill COVID-19 patients.

But that study didn't find that remdesivir prevented deaths in COVID-19 patients. A final analysis published Oct. 8 in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested "a trend toward reduced mortality" in certain COVID-19 patients who received remdesivir, according to Gilead.

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Preterm Births Decreased During Pandemic Lockdowns

A series of studies show that preterm births have decreased during lockdowns to control the coronavirus pandemic, and researchers are trying to determine why.

A large study from the Netherlands found that preterm births fell 15-23% after March 9, when the government started urging people to follow more social distancing measures and to stay home if they had symptoms or possible exposures to the virus. Within the next week, schools and workplaces began to close down, The New York Times reported.

The study was published Oct. 13 in The Lancet Public Health medical journal.

Two studies from Ireland and Denmark found that declines in preterm births in the spring during lockdowns, and there are anecdotal reports from doctors worldwide about decreases in preterm births, The Times reported.

Some experts suggest that better hygiene, cleaner air and reduced stress on mothers during lockdowns may be factors in falling preterm birth rates.

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Kamala Harris' Travel Paused Due to Coronavirus Concerns

Kamala Harris' travel has been paused after two people linked to her campaign as Joe Biden's running mate tested positive for the new coronavirus.

The California senator was not in what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as close contact with either person -- a flight crew member and Harris' communications director, Liz Allen -- according to Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon, CNN reported.

Even so, Harris' planned trip to North Carolina on Thursday was cancelled, and she won't travel again until at least Monday, O'Malley Dillon said.

"Neither of these people have had contact with Vice President Biden, Senator Harris or any other staffers since testing positive or in the 48 hours prior to their positive test results," she said, CNN reported.

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Most Americans Critical of Trump's Handling of Pandemic: Survey

The majority of Americans disapprove of President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and how he dealt with his own COVID-19 illness, a new poll shows.

In the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey, 65% of respondents said Trump hasn't taken the pandemic seriously enough, and 54% said they didn't like the way the White House managed Trump's case.

Initial information about the president's condition were unclear, and the White House still won't reveal when Trump last tested negative for COVID-19 before his infection became public, the AP reported.

So far, the coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 216,000 people in the United States.

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Concept of COVID Herd Immunity Rescuing Americans is 'Nonsense,' Fauci Says

The concept of herd immunity in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is "nonsense," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says.

Herd immunity -- the theory that a disease will stop spreading once nearly everybody has contracted it -- is being pushed by the Trump administration as a way to reopen schools and businesses, the Associated Press reported.

A group of scientists released a declaration that supports herd immunity, but Fauci warned against it.

"If you talk to anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases, they will tell you that that is risky and you'll wind up with many more infections of vulnerable people, which will lead to hospitalizations and death," he said on Good Morning America on Thursday, the AP reported.

"So I think that we've just got to look that square in the eye and say it's nonsense," Fauci said.

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