World Health Organization (WHO) cautious of using BCG vaccine for COVID-19

  • IASbaba
  • May 4, 2020
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World Health Organization (WHO) cautious of using BCG vaccine for COVID-19

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II – Health  

In News:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted a few critical issues over the use of BCG vaccine for COVID-19 recently.
  • They emphasized the importance of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of the vaccine to understand its safety and efficacy before using it on healthcare workers.

Key takeaways:

  • Randomised controlled trials using BCG vaccine are under way in the Netherlands and Australia to find out whether the vaccine can reduce the incidence and severity of COVID-19 among healthcare workers.
  • The reasons as to why countries should wait for the results of the BCG vaccine RCTs are:
    • The association of fewer COVID-19 cases in countries that have a universal BCG vaccination programme is based on population rather than individual data. 
    • The beneficial effects of the BCG vaccine given at birth are “unlikely” to reduce the severity of COVID-19 decades later. 
    • It is already known that the virus induces cytokine storm in some patients, leading to further complications — and even death.
    • BCG vaccination is likely to give a false sense of security to people, especially during the pandemic, especially if it is not effective against the novel coronavirus. 
    • Using the vaccine without evidence of its benefits could further decrease vaccine supply to protect children against TB in high-risk countries.

Important value additions:

Randomised controlled trials

  • These are quantitative, comparative, controlled experiments in which investigators study two or more interventions in a series of individuals who receive them in random order
  • The RCT is one of the simplest and most powerful tools in clinical research.

BCG vaccine

  • Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine is used against tuberculosis (TB).
  • In countries where tuberculosis or leprosy is common, one dose is recommended in healthy babies at the time of birth

Cytokine storm syndrome (CSS) 

  • It is a form of systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) that can be triggered by a variety of factors such as infections and certain drugs.
  • It occurs when large numbers of white blood cells are activated and release inflammatory cytokines, which in turn activate yet more white blood cells. 

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