Some researchers have been perplexed by the observation that many developing countries have far less COVID-19 cases than developed nations. Luis Escobar of the College of Natural Resources and Environment from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and two associates from the National Institutes of Health now argue that Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), the tuberculosis vaccine that is routinely administered to children in regions where TB rates are high, might actually contribute to fighting off COVID-19. Other principal investigators from prestigious institutions, such as Texas A&M, have also initiated major clinical trials to investigate this hypothesis.
With the results of a study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers have found compelling evidence that in countries where BCG vaccination rates are high, actual COVID-19 mortality rates are lower. The team has to statistically factor in that not all countries are the same, making adjustments to accommodate differences, reports David Fleming writing for Virginia Tech Daily. And Escobar himself has acknowledged that these findings are, in fact, quite preliminary and that considerable more research is required.
Escobar, collaborating with Alvaro Molina-Cruz and Carolina Barillas-Mury, have collected COVID-19 mortality data from sources worldwide. The team developed a data model, adjusting variables for factors such as income, access to education and health services, population size and densities and age distribution, reports David Fleming with the Virginia Tech Daily. Based on the data model and ensuring analysis, the team has been able to demonstrate a correlation evidencing that those in countries with higher rates of BCG vaccinations experience lower mortality rates from COVID-19.
But there is NO Medical Evidence
Presently, there is no medical evidence that a BCG vaccine can protect people from COVID-19, declares the World Health Organization (WHO). Consequently, the NGO declares it doesn’t recommend BCG vaccinations to prevent COVID-19.
The German Divide
The researchers took Germany as an interesting example. After all, the country was split into two after World War 2 and not reunified until 1990. In the interim, East Germany had different vaccine patterns that West Germany. The authors educate the reader that in West Germany, infants received BCG vaccines from 1961 to 1998 while East Germany commenced BCG vaccinations ten years earlier than the West but stopped in 1975. The hypothesis leads to the conclusion that East Germany received the vaccine earlier hence the older population, typically more at risk for COVID-19, would be more protected. And in fact the data shows just that; that West German states experienced mortality rates that are 2.9 times higher than those in East Germany.
Texas A&M et al Launch Major Clinical Trials
There are at least 17 clinical trials planned or underway around the world to investigate the evidence for a positive correlation of BCG vaccine to COVID-19 prevention. TrialSite News has reported on a few of these studies, including the Texas A&M-led study NCT04348370. In that study targeting 1,800 participants, Texas A&M joins Baylor College of Medicine, Anderson, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and Harvard University to validate their observation that areas with existing BCG vaccination programs appear to have lower incidence and mortality from COVID-19. The investigators hypothesize that BCG vaccination can reduce health care worker infection and disease severity during the epidemic phase of SARS-CoV-2. The study’s principal investigators include Jeffrey D Cirillo, PhD (Texas A&M) and Andrew DiNardo, MD (Baylor College of Medicine). The study started April 2020 and runs through 2021.
In another study NCT04439045, University Health Network Toronto’s Alexandre R Zlotta, MD PhD, along with prominent collaborators, including Serum Institute of India, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (Germany) and Verity Pharmaceuticals, have as a running hypothesis to test that BCG may “train” the immune system to respond to a variety of unrelated infections, including viruses, and in particular, COVID-19. Hence, they note, clinical trials are occurring in Europe, the UK, and Australia to test this hypothesis. In this study, the investigators center their attention on front-line police officers who face high risk of infection from COVID-19, with a potentially higher infection rate. Therefore, the investigators are working to activate an interventional trial to evaluate the effectiveness of BCG vaccination to prevent COVID-19 infection and reduce its severity in front-line employees of the police forces in Ontario, Canada.
A growing number of researchers are probing and investigating the link between BCG vaccinations and a reduction in COVID-19 mortalities. If in fact there is a positive correlation the BCG vaccination could help, for at least the short-term protection, against SARS-CoV-2 (especially in more vulnerable populations such as front-line medical workers, first responders or high-risk patients). A positive correlation would also raise questions about how to best utilize BCG vaccines not only to reduce deaths but also to protect the most vulnerable populations.
Luis Escobar, PhD, Assistant Professor, College of Natural Resources and Environment from Virginia Polytechnic Institute