Countries with Mandatory TB Vaccines Show Fewer Coronavirus Deaths: Study

Countries with mandatory policies to vaccinate against tuberculosis register fewer coronavirus deaths than countries that don’t have those policies, a new study has found.

The preliminary study posted on medRxiv, a site for unpublished medical research, finds a correlation between countries that require citizens to get the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine and those showing fewer number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19.

Though only a correlation, clinicians in at least six countries are running trials that involve giving frontline health workers and elderly people the BCG vaccine to see whether it can indeed provide some level of protection against the new coronavirus.

Gonzalo Otazu, assistant professor at the New York Institute of Technology and lead author of the study, started working on the analysis after noticing the low number of cases in Japan. The country had reported some of the earliest confirmed cases of coronavirus outside of China and it hadn’t instituted lockdown measures like so many other countries have done.

Otazu said he knew about studies showing the BCG vaccine provided protection against not just tuberculosis bacteria but also other types of contagions. So his team put together the data on what countries had universal BCG vaccine policies and when they were put in place. They then compared the number of confirmed cases and deaths from Covid-19 to find a strong correlation.

Among high-income countries showing large number of Covid-19 cases, the U.S. and Italy recommend BCG vaccines but only for people who might be at risk, whereas Germany, Spain, France and the U.K. used to have BCG vaccine policies but ended them years to decades ago.

China, where the pandemic began, has a BCG vaccine policy but it wasn’t adhered to very well before 1976, Otazu said. Countries including Japan and South Korea, which have managed to control the disease, have universal BCG vaccine policies. Data on confirmed cases from low-income countries was considered not reliable enough to make a strong judgment.

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