With the number of Coronavirus cases exceeding one million, killing more than 50,000 globally, the mightiest of countries have succumbed to this novel virus. With no proved cure in sight till now and the high rate of spread, several countries that used to boast of supposedly superior medical infrastructure- the United States, Italy, France and Australia, for example have failed to contain the spread of Coronavirus.
Meanwhile, India has been able to combat the Coronavirus outbreak far more effectively and until the Tablighi Jamaat played spoilsport, the cases were rising very slowly. And even after the Tablighi Jamaat’s Nizamuddin Markaz fiasco, it isn’t as if India’s fight against Coronavirus has fallen completely off-course.
In what could be a possible explanation for India’s unprecedented success in combating the Coronavirus can be attributed to the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, which is administered to millions of Indian kids after their birth as a part of the country’s Universal Immunisation Programme.
An unpublished New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) study describes the administration of the BCG vaccine as a “gamechanger” in the fight against Coronavirus. The study goes on to state, “We found that countries without universal policies of BCG vaccination, such as Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States, have been more severely affected compared to countries with universal and long-standing BCG policies.”
A direct correlation can, in fact, be found between countries with a mass/ universal BCG vaccination programme and the intensity of Coronavirus. Deaths are higher in countries that do not have a Universal BCG vaccination programme. The United States, for example, has more than 6,000 deaths, while Italy has the highest number of fatalities at just below 14,000 at the time of writing this story. The Netherlands too has reported more than 1,300 deaths.
All these countries are the ones that have discontinued their Universal BCG vaccination programmes, something that might have come back to haunt them amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic. A study published in the pre-print Health Sciences Server stated, “Countries that have a late start of Universal BCG policy such as Iran in 1984 had high morality, consistent with the idea that BCG protects the vaccinated elderly population.”
This can indeed be corroborated in the case of Iran, given that the number 3,160 Coronavirus deaths in the country took place at a mortality rate of over 6 percent- higher than most other countries.
On the other hand, India has a robust BCG vaccination programme in place, and India was also an early mover in this direction having kicked off the BCG mass immunisation programme as early as 1948.
Moreover, since the 1985 Universal Immunisation Programme and extended protection against Tuberculosis (TB) in India, there has been extensive BCG coverage in India which now seems to have bolstered the fight against Coronavirus.
As a correlation is found between BCG vaccination and fewer Coronavirus cases, India too has started working in this direction. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India, world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has tied up with the Berlin-based Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology and Vaccine Projekt Management (VPM) company. The two will conduct clinical tests to ascertain whether the tuberculosis vaccine VPM1002 can also effectively serve as vaccination against Coronavirus.
The West doesn’t vaccinate against Tuberculosis (TB) any longer because the disease has been eradicated there. But India being situated in South Asia which, has 40 percent of the TB cases across the world, has been vaccinating aggressively against Coronavirus as a part of its commitment to eradicate the disease by the year 2025.
If and when the studies about BCG vaccination protecting against, or at least reducing the intensity of Coronavirus outbreak are conclusively established, India would emerge as the global leader in the fight against Coronavirus given its recent experience and expertise in eradicating the disease.
It will also entail disastrous consequences for the West which would repent having discontinued its Universal BCG vaccination programme. It seems that in India’s successful fight against Tuberculosis lies India’s success against the novel Wuhan infection.