Covid-19 deaths fewer in nations with mandatory TB vaccination: Study

Bloomberg April 2 | Updated on April 02, 2020

With nearly 900,000 cases and 45,000 deaths, the world is struggling to control Covid-19

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The preliminary study posted on medRxiv, a site for unpublished medical research, finds a correlation between countries that require citizens to get the bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine and those showing fewer number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 had not instituted lockdown measures like so many other countries have done.


Otazu and 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 US and Italy recommend BCG vaccines but only for people who might be at risk, whereas Germany, Spain, France and the UK 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 was not adhered to very well before 1976,” Otazu said.

Caution urged

“With nearly 9,00,000 cases and 45,000 deaths, the world is struggling to control Covid-19. Any vaccine for the disease is more than a year away from being available and the effectiveness of drugs under trial wont be known for months to come. Thats why its reasonable to look at whether BCG vaccine could provide protection against Covid-19,” said Eleanor Fish, professor at the University of Torontos immunology department. Otazu’s study is yet to undergo review by peers, a strict criteria for science studies.

“I would read the results of the study with incredible caution,” Fish said.

Published on April 02, 2020

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