India begins study on BCG vaccine impact on Covid-19

Updated on Jul 19, 2020 07:59 AM IST

The study will involve around 1,000 healthy volunteers above 60 years of age in six states that have reported a high Covid-19 disease burden so far.

Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) tend to a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, in New Delhi.(REUTERS)
Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) tend to a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash (LNJP) hospital, in New Delhi.(REUTERS)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (ICMR-NIRT) has initiated a multi-centric study to see if tuberculosis vaccine, Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG), can reduce the severity of Covid-19 among people aged 60 and above residing in hot spots for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease, said the Union health ministry release issued on Saturday.

The study will involve around 1,000 healthy volunteers above 60 years of age in six states that have reported a high Covid-19 disease burden so far. “A lot is being talked about the protective effect of BCG vaccine in terms of Covid-19. This study was in the pipeline for some time and now we have begun the process. It is being done to generate India-specific evidence,” said an ICMR official, who did not wish to be identified.

Also read| Old coronavirus infections may boost Covid-19 immunity: Study

The inexpensive and widely used BCG vaccine, which protects against childhood tuberculosis, could also prevent severe infection and deaths in some Covid-19 patients, concluded two peer-reviewed studies released recently. One of the studies was led by researchers from New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). The second study conducted in the US was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It also linked BCG vaccination with reduced Covid-19 deaths.

Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Delhi are the states where the ICMR-NIRT study has been planned, and where the trial subjects will be picked from. The study will be done in collaboration with the Greater Chennai Corporation and the public health department In Tamil Nadu.

The study will focus on whether the BCG vaccine can prevent the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infection and its progression and deaths associated with Covid-19 in the elderly population. The BCG vaccine administered to newborns as a part of the national immunisation programme for over 50 years in the country will be used for the study.

Preset criteria will decide the eligibility of a volunteer to participate in the study and the approximately 1,000 participants enrolled for it will be followed closely for six months post-vaccination.

Also read: Centre frames rules for Covid care centres in gated colonies

“Those who got BCG vaccination, not just in India but in other countries, are more protected than those who were not [vaccinated], shows this analysis of data for countries with over 1,000 reported cases. We think BCG-mediated immune response would help in lowering both incidence and severity of infection,” said Gobardhan Das, the author of the JNU study. Das is the chairperson of JNU’s Centre for Molecular Medicine.

Around 100 million children around the world get the BCG vaccine annually. In India, BCG vaccination of children began in 1949. The vaccine protects against disseminated tuberculosis and meningitis in childhood. But it does not offer protection from adult pulmonary tuberculosis, which has led to several countries discontinuing its use.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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