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BCG Vaccine May Protect Elderly From COVID-19: ICMR

New Delhi: A study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has found that Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine can prove effective for tackling novel coronavirus infection among the elderly.

ICMR in a tweet said, “Scientists at the council have found that the vaccine induces increased memory cell responses and total antibody production in the elderly”.

“BCG vaccination induces enhanced innate and adaptive immunity in elderly individuals which may prove beneficial against the COVID virus,” said ICMR in another tweet.

“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 BCG is a 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.

Research Background

In July, the ICMR had said it would conduct a multi-centric study to assess whether the BCG vaccine can prevent the occurrence of coronavirus infection and reduce the severity of the disease and mortality among elderly individuals residing in hotspot areas.

Led by National Institute of Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT), Chennai, 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.

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.

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