Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Is BCG The Next Vaccine For Coronavirus?

The coronavirus or COVID-19 has caused global panic, as it continues to spread across countries. While the general public is panic buying and practicing self isolation in quarantine, all health workers and health authorities are trying to battle the global pandemic. As health workers risk their lives to treat their patients everyday, researchers are trying to come up with a vaccine to provide immunity or protection to some extent, from the virus.

While a vaccine for COVID-19 is much awaited, certain drugs may provide some protection. Use of live vaccines is encouraged, to increase the recipient’s immune response. However, as new drugs are being tested for the COVID-19 vaccination, non traditional uses of existing drugs are explored as well – one of them being BCG

The Bacillus Calmette- GuĂ©rin vaccine – BCG, has been used against tuberculosis long enough. Research shows that BCG causes the immune system responds better to infections – not limited to TB. Two studies in adults (age group – 60-75) have reported a decrease in respiratory infections by 70 to 80 percent. Meanwhile, two studies in children reported a decrease by 15 to 40 percent.
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Another study was later on conducted on infants in countries with severe health challenges. When combined with a revitalized immunization scheme, BCG was able to decrease the death rates by just under a third. However, studies have also suggested that the time period of the protective effect is temporary, until an inactivated vaccine – such as an influenza vaccine, is given.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had commissioned a systematic review, due to the promising research, which was then published in 2016. Further research was encouraged due to the conclusion of the BCG vaccine having beneficial, but off target effects

A trial of BCG vaccine has begun in the Netherlands and a larger trial of over 4000 health workers is expected to start next week in Australia. Meanwhile, countries like Greece, Britain, Germany, Denmark, and the United States, are also considering BCG vaccine trials.
Despite the benefits of a BCG vaccine, the protection is not expected to be perfect. Although a targeted vaccination for COVID-19 is not the same as a BCG vaccination, it is expected to reduce the severity of the illness and death rates among the recipients of the BCG vaccination. If BCG vaccinations could prove to be effective, an immediate relief system could be started to provide the particularly vulnerable people – the elderly or people with underlying health conditions, with the BCG vaccine.
Additionally, countries with weak health care systems, could highly benefit from these BCG vaccines. While the vaccine is safe and cheap, the availability for testing is immediate. While health care workers, and the vulnerable population are the priority, it can be soon be available to the general public as well.
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Despite all this, big public health institutions aren’t too keen in investigating BCG, despite WHO’s recommendation. Moreover, the crucial research isn’t actively funded by global health foundations such as Gates. The lack of interest of big pharmaceutical companies points towards the little profit that an established vaccine such as BCG could bring.
Enough research has been conducted on BCG, proving it to be a potential vaccination. While it may be an unconventional use of the drug, it still shows a lot of potential to give at least partial protection.
Considering the nature of the global crisis currently, even partial protection could majorly impact the increasing number of infected cases globally. It could reduce risks of health workers substantially, and also lessen the risk of collapse of our health systems. But as for now, there is an urgency to keep trials to test it’s beneficial effects for COVID-19.

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