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COVID-19 vaccine: A ray of hope as study finds BCG

Putting life into a much talked about debate whether an anti-tuberculosis vaccine can be effective against coronavirus infection, an American research paper states that Bacillus Calmette-Guerin or BCG can slow down the COVID-19 spread — at least in the first 30 days.

The study was published in Science Advances, a medical journal by American Association for the Advancement of Science. Those countries with mandatory BCG vaccination showed slower infection and date rates during the first 30 days of the coronavirus outbreak, the paper claimed.

United States was the worst-affected country by the coronavirus oubreak. The deadly virus claimed more than 1.2 lakh lives since the outbreak. The study mentioned the US could have avoided such high number of COVID-19 fatalities if they had instituted mandatory BCG vaccination several years ago.

The scientists researched the day-by-day rate of increase of confirmed COVID-19 cases in 135 countries and deaths in 134 countries in the first 30-day period of each country’s outbreak. The study showed “mandatory BCG vaccination correlated with a flattening of the curve in the spread of COVID-19″. However, the BCG vaccine is not a “magic bullet” against COVID-19, and the researchers said more analysis is needed.

The BCG vaccine is a known treatment for tuberculosis disease. It was first developed by French researchers Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin. One of the most widely used vaccine in the world, the BCG vaccine is mandatory for newborns in Africa, Asia and South America. It is also a part of the national childhood immunisation programme to prevent tuberculosis in our country.

Several studies showed that the anti-tuberculosis vaccine has the ability to improve body’s immune response and protection against many infections. There has been a lot of debate about BCG’s ability to protect coronavirus vaccine since the pandemic emerged.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan today said that “16 vaccine candidates are in different stages of development. The BCG vaccine is undergoing phase 3 trial, Zydus Cadila DNA vaccine is in phase I / II trial and 4 vaccine candidates are in advanced stages of pre-clinical study”.

At present, the Serum Institute of India is conducting phase III clinical trial of BCG vaccine candidate VPM1002 to evaluate its ability in reducing infection and severe disease outcomes of COVID-19 among high-risk persons of advanced age, comorbidities and high-exposure healthcare workers (HCWs), the Department of Biotechnology said in a statement.

Around 6,000 health workers and high-risk individuals including those in close contact of COVID-19 patients have been enrolled for this clinical trial. “The objective of this trial is to evaluate the ability of VPM1002 in reducing infection incidence and severe disease outcomes of COVID-19 among high-risk persons of advanced age or co-morbidities and high-exposure healthcare workers (HCWs),” the statement said.

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