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TB vaccine doesn’t contain coronavirus, WHO clarifies

Airlifts medical supplies for Africa

Contrary to widely published reports that the conventional vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) offers protection against the novel coronavirus, the World Health Organisation (WHO), yesterday, dismissed the claim.

The apex United Nations health body said there was no evidence that the Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (BCG) protects people against the virus.

The global agency stated that clinical trials relating to the issue were underway, adding that their outcome would be evaluated in due course.

It said: “In the absence of evidence, WHO does not recommend BCG vaccination for the prevention of COVID-19. WHO continues to recommend neonatal BCG vaccination in countries or settings with a high incidence of tuberculosis.

“There is experimental evidence from both animal and human studies that the BCG vaccine has non-specific effects on the immune system. These effects have not been well characterised and their clinical relevance is unknown.

“On April 11, 2020, WHO updated its ongoing evidence review of the major scientific databases and clinical trial repositories, using English, French and Chinese search terms for COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2 and BCG.

“The review yielded three preprints (manuscripts posted online before peer-review) in which the authors compared the incidence of COVID-19 cases in countries where the BCG vaccine is used with countries where it is not used and observed that countries that routinely used the vaccine in neonates had less reported cases of COVID-19 to date. Such ecological studies are prone to significant bias from many confounders, including differences in national demographics and disease burden, testing rates for COVID-19 virus infections, and the stage of the pandemic in each country.

“The review also yielded two registered protocols for clinical trials, both of which aim to study the effects of BCG vaccination given to healthcare workers directly involved in the care of patients with COVID-19.

“BCG vaccination prevents severe forms of tuberculosis in children and diversion of local supplies may result in neonates not being vaccinated, resulting in an increase of disease and deaths from tuberculosis. In the absence of evidence, WHO does not recommend BCG vaccination for the prevention of COVID-19. WHO continues to recommend neonatal BCG vaccination in countries or settings with a high incidence of tuberculosis.”

Meanwhile, the first United Nations “Solidarity Flight” left Addis Ababa, Ethiopia yesterday to deliver vital medical supplies to all African nations for the containment of the COVID-19 scourge.

WHO said its cargo was transported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and it included face shields; gloves; goggles; gowns; masks, aprons, thermometers as well as ventilators.

The agency added that the consignment also had supplies from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Jack Ma Foundation Initiative.

Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; the Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, and WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, made the confirmations.

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