Coronavirus Factcheck- No Evidence of BCG Vaccine Offering Protection Against COVID-19 so far!!

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Neucrad Health May 3, 2020

Every day we hear new information about possible treatments against COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists are making claims about the efficiency of various drugs in arresting the symptoms and reducing the recovery time of the infection. While some of these news reports remain based on clinical trials and laboratory examinations, many others are turning out to be rumours and overenthusiasm of a group of research scholars. One such news is the action of BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine against the novel coronavirus. Let us see what the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other reputed regulatory agencies are saying about the speculation.

What is BCG vaccine?

The BCG vaccine works against the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the causal organism for tuberculosis. The vaccine gets developed from Mycobacterium bovis bacterium, which is a related strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis. French bacteriologists Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin developed this vaccine for a period of 13 years from 1908 to 1921. The injection got its name from its developers. Many Asian countries, including India, administer this injection to new-borns to safeguard against the tuberculosis infection. However, European and American countries do not make this immunisation compulsory as there is a low risk of Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection.

What is the WHO saying about the BCG vaccination and COVID-19?

The WHO refuted the claims of scientists about the efficiency of the BCG vaccine as a protective measure against the novel coronavirus in a report published on April 12, 2020. They said that still now there is no experimental evidence about the working of this injection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers are relying on the fact that the BCG vaccine has some non-specified positive impact on the human immune system. They are comparing the data of the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in countries where BCG vaccination is compulsory in neonates to those where this vaccine is not administered after birth. However, we must also remember such type of ecological studies depends on various factors, including national demographics, disease burden, and the density of COVID-19 test among the population.  With the absence of characterised evidence and unknown clinical relevance, it would be too early to conclude about the efficacy of the vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Are there any ongoing trial on the action of the BCG vaccination on COVID-19?

The Serum Institute of India (SII) is conducting a test on the action of BCG vaccine in protecting against the COVID-19 infection. The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved this clinical trial, and they have inducted more than 6000 high-risk candidates as volunteers for the test. They mostly include frontline workers in our fight against the pandemic like healthcare workers and close family members of COVID-19 patients. Around 40 hospitals in India are taking part in the clinical trial. In Pune, KEM Hospital, Bharati Hospital, and Symbiosis Hospital have tied up with Serum Institute of India for the study. Adar Poonawalla, owner and CEO of SII said that the objective of the trial is to find out if their recombinant BCG vaccine (VPM1002) is effective in relieving the COVID-19 symptoms like high fever, shortness of breath and cough. They will also study the effect of the vaccine on the recovery time of the SARS-CoV-2 infection. Similar clinical trials are also going ahead in laboratories in other COVID-19 affected countries. Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) in German has also started a study on the BCG vaccine.

However, currently, we do not have the results from these clinical trials. So, at this point, countries having compulsory BCG vaccine cannot become complacent about the COVID-19 pandemic. Famous TB researcher and the director of McGill University’s International TB Center, Madhukar Pai also cautioned the population about the BCG vaccine. He said that it is not a magic bullet against the infection, so candidates who have taken the immunisation should also carry out all other precautionary measures to stay safe during the pandemic.

References:

  1. Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination and COVID-19
  2. BCG Vaccination to Protect Healthcare Workers Against COVID-19 (BRACE)
  3. 6,000 enter trial to test recombinant BCG vaccine against Covid-19 in Pune
  4. BCG Vaccine

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