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Coronavirus vaccine update: BCG-COVID trial begins at ICMR's Chennai institute

Chennai's National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis said the process of screening individuals aged 60 and above and administering them with the BCG vaccine has started.
Jul 16, 2020 / 09:46 AM IST

The Tamil Nadu government has said that a trial by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s tuberculosis institute, to study the efficacy of the BCG vaccine in the fight against COVID-19, has begun.

State Health Minister C Vijayabaskar said the approval was given after ICMR sought Tamil Nadu government's permission to study the efficacy of the Bacillus Calmette-Gurin (BCG) vaccine in senior citizens at its National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) at Chetpet.

Screening individuals aged 60 and above and administering them with the BCG vaccine has started, a senior official said.

The objective of the multi-centric study, in which elderly people not affected by the novel coronavirus are vaccinated, is to see whether this immunisation drive reduces mortality rate and helps cut down COVID-19 incidence.

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A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

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Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Following vaccination, those immunised would be followed up. If some of them get infected with COVID-19, it would be assessed if the BCG vaccination stood them in good stead when compared with others of the same age group who were not vaccinated.

A senior NIRT official told news agency PTI that the sample size is "sufficient and adequate" to meet the trial's goal and the duration is "about six months and it could well get extended further as all the vaccinated people needed to be followed up for outcomes."

Besides Chennai, the BCG-COVID trial, under the auspices of ICMR would be held in five other centres and "they are in the process of starting and it is going to start soon," the official said.

The Health Minister is hoping that vaccinating high-risk groups with time-tested BCG would help reduce the intensity of COVID-19, admissions at hospitals and mortality rates.

Vijayabaskar said anti-viral measures will be further stepped up. The NIRT, under the ICMR, is an internationally recognised institution for TB research.

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(With inputs from PTI)
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