Understanding the Role of the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) Vaccine in the Fight against Covid-19

A century old tuberculosis vaccine is being evaluated by the scientific community as a response to the ongoing Covid-19. Preetika Parashuraman explains


A tuberculosis vaccine has turned heads of many scientists and researchers / image source - www.mirchi9.com

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Preetika Parashuraman

The severity of Covid-19 cases is lower in developing countries according to a situation report by the World Health Organisation(WHO). Researchers suggest that this could be attributed to the regulation of vaccine policy administration in developing countries.

Scientists across the globe are fighting tooth and nail to develop a vaccine against Covid-19. It is said that control over Covid-19 is possible only if the global population builds a strong immune system. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults and people who have severe underlying medical conditions are at greater risk for developing serious complications from Covid-19.

The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a vaccine for tuberculosis. The BCG vaccine has proved to be effective against the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome(SARS), meaning it was able to reduce the intensity of the infection, not cure it. When asked about the effectiveness of the BCG vaccine against Covid-19, Dr. Denise Faustman, Director of Immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital says that, “It will help build immune responses to things besides tuberculosis causing enhanced protection against respiratory diseases.”

To understand the role of the BCG vaccine, researchers from the New York Institute of Technology studied countries' BCG vaccination policies and their Covid-19 mortality. On the basis of the study, it was found that countries that started late with the BCG vaccination policy such as Italy and Netherlands have been gravely affected by Covid-19 compared to countries with long-standing BCG vaccine policies such as India. The study has not been approved by experts yet. Considering the findings of the study, more scientific details are needed according to Rakesh Verma, director of CSIR-Centre for Cellular Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

A course of clinical trials have begun around the world. The trials are focused on older people and healthcare workers who are at tremendous risk to come in contact with the virus. Presently, two clinical trials are in force. Australia has geared the BCG Vaccination to Reduce the Impact of Covid-19 in Australian Healthcare Workers Following Coronavirus Exposure (BRACE) Trial.

Murdoch Children Research Institute is expecting to enrol 4000 healthcare workers. The director of Murdoch Children Research Institute is hoping that the vaccine’s effectiveness against the symptoms are tested to save the lives of their front line workers. Another trial is the BCG-CORONA by Netherlands that is expecting to enrol 1500 healthcare workers. The purpose is to reduce absenteeism among healthcare workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, trials in India could begin within a few weeks to check if the BCG vaccine can boost immunity in adults against Covid-19. The Indian Institute of Medical Research will also begin a study soon.

Without a definite vaccine for Covid-19, the BCG vaccine is a ray of hope to boost the immune system of people, says Deepak Verma (Department of Internal Medicine) to a media organization. The World Health Organization said that there is no evidence to prove that the BCG vaccine can protect people from contracting the novel coronavirus. However, they will examine the results from the trials underway.

Dr. Raman R Gangakhedkar, chief scientist of the Indian Council of Medical Research does not recommend the BCG vaccine until results are definitive. Thus far, the US Food and Drug administration has not approved any treatment or vaccine.

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