Health Highlights: Feb. 3, 2021

Companies Developing Vaccines Against New Coronavirus Variants

As concerns mount about mutations that could make the new coronavirus more difficult to fight, two companies say they’re working to develop new vaccines against emerging variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

GlaxoSmithKline is teaming with German biopharmaceutical company CureVac to create vaccines that use messenger RNA to combat the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

“The increase in emerging variants with the potential to reduce the efficacy of first generation COVID-19 vaccines requires acceleration of efforts to develop vaccines against new variants to keep one step ahead of the pandemic,” according to a statement from the companies.

Their announcement comes as public health officials worldwide express worry about new coronavirus variants from Britain, South Africa and Brazil that are more contagious or resistant to current vaccines, the AP reported.

Mutations in the virus are being closely monitored by scientists in an attempt to quickly identify potentially dangerous variants.

“We believe that next generation vaccines will be crucial in the continued fight against COVID-19,” GSK Chief Executive Emma Walmsley said in the statement, the AP reported.

WHO Team Probing COVID’s Origins Visits Wuhan Research Center

A Chinese research center that’s been the focus of unsubstantiated allegations that it may be linked to the original coronavirus outbreak in the city of Wuhan was visited Wednesday by a World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During their visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the WHO team didn’t wear protective suits, which they did wear during a visit Tuesday to an animal disease research center, the Associated Press reported.

The institute has an archive of genetic information about bat coronaviruses that was collected after the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has led to speculation that it may be connected with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That has been strongly denied by China, which has suggested that the new coronavirus may have originated elsewhere or was brought into China from overseas with imports of frozen seafood tainted with the virus, a theory that’s been dismissed by international scientists and agencies, the AP reported.

The institute’s deputy director, Shi Zhengli, has vigorously denied suggestions by the Trump administration and other U.S. officials that the coronavirus is either a bioweapon or that it leaked from the institute.

The WHO team, which includes experts from 10 nations, has visited hospitals, research institutes and a traditional wet market linked to many of the first cases. Their visit followed months of negotiations as China seeks to retain tight control over information about the outbreak, the AP reported.

COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019. Once the outbreal started, the city of 11 million was put under a strict 76-day lockdown. China has since reported more than 89,000 cases and 4,600 deaths, with new cases largely concentrated in its frigid northeast and local lockdowns and travel restrictions being imposed to contain the outbreaks, the AP reported.

It will likely take years to confirm the origins of the new coronavirus, the wire service said.