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BCG vaccine trials to begin in 2 weeks on high-risk Covid-19 groups in Maharashtra

Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India, said if the BCG vaccine proves its efficacy against Covid-19, it will provide a far safer alternative as it lacks side effects.

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New Delhi: India is set to begin trials, within the next two weeks, to determine if the bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine can boost immunity in the fight against Covid-19, Adar Poonawalla, CEO, Serum Institute of India (SII) told ThePrint.

The BCG is a vaccine for tuberculosis and is administered at birth in countries such as India, which have historically had a high prevalence of the disease.

“We are likely to start the study within two weeks from now to check if BCG shots reduce the severity of Covid-19 in India,” Poonawalla said. “The ideal geography to start trials is Italy and the US but we are facing fund shortages there. Here, we are expecting fund release from the Indian government.”

The company is likely to start the trials in Maharashtra, particularly Pune, and it will involve at least 2,000 to 3,000 “high-risk” people. It is set to administer a recombinant BCG vaccine to the high-risk category that includes the elderly, people with co-morbid conditions and healthcare workers.

“These people will be compared against the placebos,” Poonawalla said. “For instance, healthcare workers will be given vaccine shots and will be checked against another set of healthcare workers working next to them but without the vaccine.”

According to a study conducted by medical researchers in the US and UK, which analysed data from 178 countries, “countries that do not have a BCG vaccination policy saw ten times greater incidence of and mortality from Covid-19, compared with those who do”.

Some of the worst Covid-19 affected countries such as the US and Italy don’t administer the BCG vaccine as a part of their vaccination policy.

Poonawalla said that if the tests are successful, the recombinant vaccine will be out in the market soon.

“If the study yields positive results, the vaccine could be in markets by the end of this year,” said Poonawalla, the son of Dr. Cyrus Poonawalla, the SII founder popularly known as the “vaccine king”.

The SII is the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by number of doses produced and sold globally. It manufactures a variety of vaccines including for polio, diphtheria, tetanus and BCG. It is estimated that about 65 per cent of the children in the world receive at least one vaccine manufactured by the firm.

Also read: Only 1 in 24 Indians testing positive for Covid, ICMR says this shows our strategy’s working

‘BCG safer than HCQ, anti-HIV drugs’

Poonawalla said that if the BCG vaccine proves its efficacy against Covid-19, it will provide a far safer alternative as it lacks side effects.

“It can be given to a newborn baby because it is very mild,” he said. “It is safer than prescribing any anti-retrovirals or Hydroxychloroquine, which have several side-effects.”

“The objective of these trials is to reduce the severity of Covid-19 cases in India assuming that the vaccine will help prepare the bodies better and boost immunity to fight the coronavirus invasion,” he added.

The vaccine is not an ultimate solution but only an attempt to reduce the severity of the cases, Poonawalla said.

He added that SII has tied up with two companies in the US to develop a Covid-19 vaccine. “We are also involved in manufacturing a vaccine against Covid-19. We are conducting animal trials with mice and primates,” he said. “The company hopes to start clinical trials in around a month in India. By the year end, our vaccine candidate will be ready.”

On the medical trials going on around the world for new medicines, Poonawalla said there have been “mixed results” that aren’t very promising. “Drugs that are showing some amount of efficacy in 10 or more days are not very promising. It is a very long period and anyone can recover by themselves or the body’s own immunity,” he said. “It will be substantial if any drug works on severe to mild cases within three to four days. Otherwise, until now, everything is just conjecture.”

Also read: Azithromycin, paracetamol, other APIs see upto 190% price jump as China resumes production


‘Cases will surge post lockdown, but no need for panic’

Poonawalla said cases will surge after the lockdown but warned that multiple lockdowns are not a solution.

“At least 20 per cent of the Indian population (around 26 crores) will get infected with this virus in another 2-3 years but fatalities will be less than 1 per cent,” he said.

He also advocated against prolonging the lockdown.

“Lockdown was done to prepare the health system and draft strategies. It’s been done now,” he said. “I don’t think it should be continued post 3 May. Multiple lockdowns will cripple the economy to a point from where there will be no return.”

He further said that a healthy workforce must be allowed to go out. “Undoubtedly, once the lockdown will open up, the surge in cases will be noticed. But there is no need for panic,” Poonawalla said. “Continued lockdown is not the right response. People in India have gained immunity against H1N1 and measles by going out and exposing themselves. Lifting lockdown in a phased manner is a good idea.”

Also read: Inform public not to use HCQ and azithromycin without prescription, Modi govt tells states


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  1. My suggestion to the whole world :
    As a stop-gap arrangement till the effective Covid-19 vaccine is found,following steps are necessary to reduce the corona infection rate and corona mortality rate.
    Start BCG vaccination. No lock down is required. Situation will become normal automatically.

  2. 26 crores indian people next 2&3 years no need wait that much time enough 6 month s to be finish India if lockdown lift because no common and minimum sence not having Indians first give information virus fellow if coughing and sneezing while manufacturing of milk, biscuits, children food , cooldrinks, like any food items how long it will live that information give first no need your waste prediction one pesent died 2percent died people going to manufacturing foods first tell me how long it will stay with food items like milk busicuit chocolates my number is 9296906906


  4. Good innovation n idea if really it works.when it available n sold.
    Anyway something is good if nothing is there sir.

  5. Welcome initiative Mr Poonawala of M/s SII,Pune.There is always a firm decision required to be taken in such situations when the entire world is fighting and finding some solutions to this Pandemic Covid-19. Bold decision is the need of the hr. God bless u.

  6. Congratulations Dr. I am 64 and ready to become volunteer for the trial. I am ready to serve for the mankind.

  7. Heartiest congratulations dr Salute and thanks for your selfless service towards our country.
    If volunteers for testing vaccine required in india i am ready. I wish to dedicate mysejf to my country I can volunteer for the test. I am 54.

  8. Good thought by poonamwalla sir plz kindly put this idea before the Indian Govt to save lives of entire world , ,

  9. MR Poonawalas observation is very correct. If lockdown extends beyond 3rd May there will be a collapse in INDIAN economy. It should be phased withdrawals. Medicines, Vaccines boosts up immunity.
    Lastly death rate is more among 75+ age groups. As with age their immunity reduces. If you require I can volunteer for the test. I am 75.

  10. I totally agree with Mr Das, we should start this trial with immediate effect as we cannot afford anymore delay. BCG Vaccine is a ray of hope👍

  11. I 100% agree with Mr. K K D . That the Case Surge in Non BCG compliant countries is 10 times to what is there in India (as per medical researchers in US & UK) and the B.C.G vaccine doesn’t have any side effects, ICMR should evaluate this option as it is widely available in our country & moreover it is in Immunization Scheme as well since last 40 – 50 years.

    Dear Media Personnel, pls. try to put the views of Adar Sir through important forums so that the Govt. Of India take cognizance of it and the heads start rolling.

    We are not undermining the competence of our Scientists and Microbiologists but a fortune can come from anywhere.

  12. If this BCG vaccine is mild and can help to some extent…I can’t believe we’re sitting on it…why are we waiting….people are dying everyday…act lives.

  13. Heartiest congratulations dr. Definitely it will work.We need to save people. Our very best wishes. Fingers crossed. No effort will go empty. Our honourable prime minister is doing a very commendable work. He is there to support In all the ways. Bestest wishes dr. Prayers and wishes from all of us.
    Veena Siyal

  14. Great initiative. But why is there emphasis on govt supporting the Covid 19 vaccine program. If it’s supporting, then will the vaccine be sold at cost.

  15. 26 crore will get infected and 1% will die means 26 lakhs will die and he is saying only 1% will die, at least count the numbers of 1%

  16. If volunteers for testing vaccine required in india i am ready. We can bypass some steps for testing at this juncture of this dreadful virus covid 19 .Good luck India.

  17. Nice initiative Sir. It won’t be wrong if I say that giving BCG Vaccine to the New Borns has been a Centuries Old practice in India.

    Definitely, there will be surge after lifting the Lock Down but at the same time we have to look from the Economy point of view of the Nation too. Similarly, people must not Panic. Even after lockdown if follow Social Distancing norms and practice proper Hygiene then one may not get Infected and thus we can help gain Normalcy again in the Country, gradually.

  18. I sincerely congratulate Sri Poonawalla Of M/s SII for his daring steps to combat covid-19 with BCG vaccine. This should have been started long back so that many precious life would have been saved. A bird in hand is worth two in bush. When no immediate vaccine is available, what is the point in delaying the administration of existing BCG vaccine ? It may not be cent percent effective, but it does not have any side effects. I am not telling these things of my own but these are backed by scientific observations in USA, Australia, Holland and our PGI in India. Kindly start this at the earliest to save the mankind. Any delay can prove catastrophic for the entire world. If India starts it and shows success, the whole world will follow us. We don’t have anything to lose. This will be the most economical option to check corona.

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