The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BGC) vaccine has been protecting against the deadliest forms of tuberculosis (TB) for the past 100 years. Even though the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine were hugely debated over the decades, research indicates that its effectiveness level is around 70-80% against the most severe forms of TB. A dose of the vaccine is given to newborn babies living in countries with a high TB rate.
Also, scientists in Germany have developed a new tuberculosis vaccine (VPM1002) by genetically modifying the BGC that could help control the new coronavirus. Several studies have been initiated and the results are promising, the BCG has already proven to be effective against other infections. Given that the world is urgently looking for ways to treat and prevent the new coronavirus until we can develop a vaccine, attention is being turned to the BCG vaccine and the new VPM1002.
Infection biologist Stefan Kaufmann in charge of developing the VPM1002 told DW, “In controlled studies, it has been shown that BCG can indeed protect against viral respiratory infections. BCG stimulates innate immunity, and this can be used to build a defence against viral respiratory infections. Based on this, we know that our new vaccine should have similar effect.”
He hopes that the new vaccine will strengthen basic immunity against lung diseases. If this is true and the vaccine can have some prophylactic effect on COVID-19, it could be given to people who have not yet contracted the disease, this will reduce the spread and the number of severe cases. However, this is still in theory, there is still not enough evidence.
The Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany has approved a phase III clinical trial for VPM1002 against the new coronavirus. They studied 1,000 frontline health workers who are exposed to possible infection. A second study will involve 2,000 volunteers from all over the country. Researchers in the Netherlands have successfully recruited 1,000 health workers for the clinical trials, the staffs ranging from nurses, doctors and other key frontline workers will get the vaccine or a dummy drug. The results will help them prove if the BCG vaccine can reduce the severe side effects of the new coronavirus. Australia is also launching similar trials hoping to study more than 4,000 frontline health workers.
We can only conclude if the BGC vaccine works against COVID-19 once the results of the clinical trials have been successfully scrutinized. But if the BCG vaccine proves to be successful enough, the vaccine can be produced in large quantities within a short period, this will help reduce infection and deaths until an effective COVID-19 vaccine is found.
“We’re not talking about millions, but about 10 to 100 million doses in a short time,” Stefan Kaufmann says. “When the COVID-19 crisis emerged, some scientist looked directly at whether COVID risks were lower in countries where BCG vaccination is mandatory, i.e., whether there were fewer cases of disease than in countries without BGC vaccination. And, indeed, a connection was found here.” Stefan Kaufmann added.
Ultimately, more research is needed to confirm BCG’s effectiveness against the new coronavirus before we can scale up production and vaccination to protect people against COVID-19.
This brings us to where the government of Ghana and the health ministry is doing about the breaking news, are they even aware and if they are, why haven’t they informed the public on steps they are taking or we are waiting for Europe? Since the president lifted a number restriction on public gathering and informing the public about this development would have helped with putting our minds to rest.