Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine helps elderly in COVID-19 fight

Trials showed that BCG vaccine, which is used for protection against tuberculosis for more than 40 years now, triggered antibody and T-cell responses in elderly individuals, said the study by a group of researchers at ICMR-National Institute for R...

Mumbai: The Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine can potentially help the elderly tackle the novel coronavirus, a new study supported by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has said.

Trials showed that BCG vaccine, which is used for protection against tuberculosis for more than 40 years now, triggered antibody and T-cell responses in elderly individuals, said the study by a group of researchers at ICMR-National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis.

The study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, investigated the impact of BCG vaccination and whether it developed T-cell, B-cell and overall antibody levels in healthy individuals in the age group of 60-80 years.


The trial covered 86 elderly participants, out of whom 54 received BCG vaccination and the rest received placebo. Innate immune response was seen in 33 individuals, or 61%, who received BCG.

The trial results come at a time when the search for a Covid-19 vaccine is going on with a frenzy across the world.

It shows that BCG vaccination does offer protection against viral infections, and leads to increased time to Covid-19 infection as demonstrated in other studies in the past.
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However, what remains to be studied is whether the vaccination specifically protects against SARS-Cov2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

“Our study highlights the effect of BCG vaccination in modulating the frequencies of both innate and adaptive immune cell subsets,” one of the researchers wrote in the study report. “Our study also reveals an effect of BCG in inducing heightened total antibody levels.”

ET has seen a preprint of the study.

While the study did not examine the functional effects of these changes in the immune system, their data reveals an important role for BCG vaccination in boosting immune responses in the elderly population, it said. “Whether this translates to improved protective immunity to non-specific infections like SARS-CoV2 remains to be determined.”
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Various studies across the world were looking at whether the BCG vaccination protected certain populations against Covid-19. This also became a subject of intense debate among scientists where a section of the research community attributed India’s low death compared to other countries due to Covid-19 as a direct result of BCG vaccination.
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