Home Tuberculosis BCG vaccine shields elderly from Covid: ICMR study

BCG vaccine shields elderly from Covid: ICMR study

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ICMR study suggests it induces innate, adaptive immunity among elderly individuals

Hyderabad: A study on elderly individuals between 60 years and 80 years conducted by researchers from Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) have found that BCG vaccination induces innate and adaptive immunity among them, which could prove beneficial against SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In an ongoing study, researchers from ICMR affiliated National Institute of Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT), Chennai, have found that the BCG vaccine induces increased memory cell responses and total antibody production among the elderly.

“The BCG vaccination was associated with enhanced innate and adaptive memory cell subsets, as well as total antibody levels in elderly individuals, suggesting its potential utility in SARS-CoV-2 infection by enhancing heterologous immunity,” the study, which is available in the MedRxiv preprint journal for health sciences from Wednesday, said.

The Baceille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is heterologous vaccine where one pathogen is introduced in order to provide protection against a different one. In this case, BCG is made-up of Mycobacterium bovis and is administered to protect against Tuberculosis (TB), which is caused by bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

“We investigated the impact of BCG vaccination on the frequencies of T cell, B cell, monocyte and dendritic cell subsets as well as total antibody levels in a group of healthy elderly individuals (age 60-80 years) at one month post vaccination as part of our clinical study to examine the effect of BCG on Covid-19,” the ICMR researchers said.

Ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers from across the world have been trying to understand the potential of the BCG vaccine on Covid-19 infections. Earlier in June, a group of academics from United States, who had conducted extensive global analysis of BCG vaccination, which was published in Proceedings of National Academic of Sciences (PNAS), had indicated that ‘BCG could have protective effect in Covid-19 patients’.

The potential protective properties of BCG vaccine for Covid-19 positive patients had prompted ICMR to launch an Indian study to evaluate its effectiveness among elderly individuals between 60 years and 80 years living in Covid-19 hotspots in the country.

Led by NIRT, the BCG study was carried out in six sites including Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and New Delhi with a size of nearly 1,500 healthy volunteers above the age of 60 years. The BCG vaccine, which is part of the National Immunisation Programme in India for the past 50 years, was administered to the elderly who are not affected by the Covid-19 disease.

The ICMR study aimed to figure out whether the BCG shots will prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and whether it can prevent the virus from progressing and becoming a major cause of morbidity among the elderly. The BCG vaccine is literally the first vaccine that almost all the infants in India receive immediately after birth. Scientists from across the world through observational studies have linked low Covid related mortalities in India and Pakistan to the practice of mandatory BCG vaccination.

Brief history

1. BCG vaccine named two French scientists Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin
2. First tested on humans in 1921
3. Effective in preventing severe forms of TB and leprosy among children
4. Recent epidemiological studies correlate BCG with prevention of Covid-19
5. Countries where BCG is universally administered have reported less mortality and morbidity due to Covid-19, studies claim
6. WHO maintains more evidence is needed and it does not recommend BCG for prevention of Covid-19


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