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Can Pakistan's 88% BCG vaccination rate against tuberculosis (TB) help reduce the impact of coronavirus? A New York Institute of Technology study using data from 178 countries has concluded that both the incidence and mortality of COVID-19 are significantly lower in countries with BCG vaccination programs against TB. Will this study help prove Dawn News' alarming forecast of over 2 million confirmed cases by June 1 and 20 million actual infections wrong?
The study has found that the coronavirus has hit US and Italy which do not have universal BCG vaccination programs much harder than countries like Japan which do. Scientists say it will take several months to get results from ongoing trials testing the BCG vaccine against COVID-19.
Scientists have speculated that BCG vaccine may boost the innate immune system not just against TB but also against a variety of other pathogens from invading the body or from establishing an infection. Here are some of the key findings of the study summarized below:
1. Countries that do not have a BCG vaccination policy against TB have seen 10X greater incidence and deaths from Covid-19 than the countries that do, according to a study of data from 178 countries by New York Institute of Technology researchers.
2. BCG, or Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, is a vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). It is administered at birth in many developing countries that have historically suffered from the disease, such as India and Pakistan. Most of the developed nations, including US, Italy and the Netherlands do not have universal TB vaccination programs. Japan is among the few developed OECD nations that still do. The East Asian nation had some of the earlier cases, but the mortality is low despite not having adopted some the more stringent social distancing rules.
3. The study looked at Covid-19 instances and mortality for 15 days between March 9 and 24 in 178 countries and concluded that incidence of Covid-19 was 38.4 per million in countries with BCG vaccination compared to 358.4 per million in the absence of such a program.
4. The death rate was 4.28 per million in countries with BCG programs compared to 40 per million in countries without such a program. Out of the 178 countries studied, 21 had no vaccination program, while the status was unclear in 26 countries. The latter group was treated as not having a policy for the purpose of this study.
Scientists do not have data yet on the effect of BCG vaccination on coronaviruses in general or SARS-CoV-2 in particular, according to Reuters. There are also many BCG vaccines, with different capacities to protect against various TB strains. Scientists need to determine which BCG vaccines might have the best ability to boost the innate immune system to fight COVID-19. Scientists say it will take several months to get results from ongoing trials testing the BCG vaccine against COVID-19.