As major countries in the world are funding the research for a coronavirus vaccine, tens of thousands of people continue to die from COVID-19. But some scientists believe a vaccine might already exist, and India is one of the countries with a lot of it.

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You probably remember the BCG shots we all have received in our childhoods. According to a recent study, the countries with universal policies of BCG vaccination, including India, could have better chances against the new coronavirus than those that did not have such a policy in place.

Some very interesting new research in a niche area of immunology suggests that certain live vaccines that have been around for decades could, possibly, protect against the coronavirus. The theory is that these vaccines could make people less likely to experience serious symptoms — or even any symptoms — if they catch it.

The Haffkine Institute in Mumbai will soon begin clinical trials of the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine as a treatment for COVID-19.

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According to the Maharashtra government, the Drug Control General of India has given permission for such trials to be conducted in the state. "We will begin trials immediately on around 35 patients," said Dr. Sanjay Mukherjee, Secretary, Medical Education and Drugs Department of the Government of Maharashtra.

Initial trials will start at BJ Medical College in Pune, according to the health department. While some of the participants in the trial will be those with moderate Covid-19 symptoms, others will be those with severe symptoms.

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The sudden appearance of COVID-19 has not given time to create specific drugs to control it and doctors and researchers have had to recycle drugs used for other ailments. The antiviral remdesivir, which was designed with Ebola in mind, or chloroquine, which fights malaria and some autoimmune diseases, has been given to patients with unproven expectations that they would alleviate COVID symptoms.

Among these old solutions to the new problem could be one of the oldest and most widely used vaccines in the world, and several clinical trials are already testing their protective potential against the new virus. The risk of failure is great, but the story of this recent attempt to stop the coronavirus shows how hard scientific work is and how the knowledge it generates can save us in unexpected ways.

A few months ago, Lyubima Despotova, president of the Bulgarian Society for Long-Term Care and Palliative Medicine, noted an observed correlation between the countries most affected by the coronavirus and the use of the BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine against tuberculosis.

This prophylactic, first tested in 1921 by Albert Calmette and Jean-Marie Camille Guérin, has been used successfully since then across the globe, including India. However, when Koch's bacillus stopped wreaking havoc on the more developed world, BCG disappeared from their vaccination schedules.

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But not all of them. In Eastern Europe, Portugal, Greece, India, and others that are not as developed as the Western countries, it continues to be used. They all have less dramatic figures in comparison to developed European and North American countries.

The findings published by NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM), researchers, led by Gonzalo Otazu, Ph.D., assistant professor of biomedical sciences reveal the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, also known as tuberculosis (TB) vaccine, could be a potential weapon in combatting the deadly coronavirus.

“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,” the researchers said in an official statement on Monday.

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Although no definitive conclusions can be drawn from the observed correlation between BCG use and the impact of the new virus, scientists have seen for many years that this vaccine not only protects against tuberculosis.

BCG was created from bacteria similar to humans, but usually infect cows, that are cultivated so that they were weak enough to not make the inoculated sick, but still alive to train your body's immune system against the attack of the real bacteria.

However, some scientists are already expressing doubt. Such studies are “at the very bottom of the evidence hierarchy,” said Dr. Christine Stabell Benn, who is raising funds for a Danish B.C.G trial. She added that the protective effects of a dose of B.C.G given to adults decades ago, when they were infants, may well differ from the protective effects the vaccine could provide when given to adults during an outbreak.

“In the end,” said Dr. Mihai Netea, an immunologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands who is leading one of the trials, “only the clinical trials will give the answer.”

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Thankfully, that answer will come very soon. Initial results from the trials that are underway may be available within a few months. If these researchers are right, these old vaccines could buy us time — and save thousands of lives — while we work to develop a new one

It's important to remember that if BCG does eventually prove effective against coronavirus, it won't be panaceas, like almost all of the drugs being tested, but it could reduce the number of infections and risk in some population groups. However, we must wait for the results and not convert a possible benefit into real harm.

WHO Director Tedros Adhanom has already called for countries to not start acquiring stocks of BCG, an essential drug for many developing countries.

"One of the great problems of COVID for developing countries is that vaccination schedules are not being met. In South Africa, there are halted campaigns and there is a risk that measles will return”, warns Tedros.

As with vaccines, the coronavirus experience could have an indirect effect and help us remember that diseases forgotten in the rich continue to afflict much of humanity.

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