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




Apparatus to administer the BCG vaccine in Japan (representational image) | Photo: ThePrint Team | Commons
Apparatus to administer the BCG vaccine in Japan (representational image) | Photo: ThePrint Team | Commons

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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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Andhra doctor, suspended for alleging PPE shortage, now beaten by cops for ‘creating nuisance’




doctor with a stethoscope
A doctor with a stethoscope (Representative image) | Pixabay

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Bengaluru: A doctor with a government hospital in Andhra Pradesh, who was suspended for questioning the shortage of PPE kits, was admitted to a mental health facility Sunday, a day after he was allegedly manhandled by the police and arrested for creating nuisance in Visakhapatnam.

Dr Sudhakar Rao, a government civil surgeon, was beaten, his hands tied behind his back and dragged by police officers Sunday. During the incident, Sudhakar allegedly verbally abused the Jagan Mohan Reddy government in an inebriated state. Videos of the incident have since been widely shared online.

“The police control room received a call about a person creating nuisance on Beach Road Hospital in Visakhapatnam. The Fourth Town police was rushed there and found that the person was the suspended doctor, Sudhakar.

“When the police tried to control him, he snatched the mobile phone of an officer and threw it away. He is suffering from mental disorder and he was drunk. He was sent for a medical examination,” Vishakapatnam Police Commissioner R.K. Meena told the media Sunday.

Sudhakar was admitted to a mental hospital Sunday after doctors at the King George Hospital in Vishakapatnam said he suffered from anxiety.

“Since the doctor is in anxiety and talking irrelevant things, I have referred him to a mental care hospital in Visakhapatnam,” said Dr Radha Rani, medical superintendent, King George Hospital.

A statement released by the hospital said: “Dr Sudhakar was brought to the KGH casualty ward at 6.30 pm. From the smell, it was found that he was in a drunk condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he did not cooperate with anybody there and kept abusing all. Still, his pulse, BP were checked. Pulse was 98, BP 140/100. Blood samples were sent to forensic lab to ascertain alcohol content in his blood.”

Also read: 6 toilets for 20 houses, inadequate testing: Why Mumbai’s Worli chawls are a Covid hotspot

‘Treatment towards Sudhakar was inhuman’

Sudhakar, who spent more than 10 years at the Narsipatnam Government Hospital in Andhra Pradesh, was suspended from his duties in March after he openly criticised the Reddy government for failing to provide PPE kits and N95 masks to doctors treating Covid-19 patients.

He had alleged that the state government was giving N95 masks and PPE kits meant for doctors to politicians and the police.

A video of Sudhakar criticising the government was also shared widely. In the clip, he can be heard saying: “We are putting our lives at risk here. We are asked to use the same mask for 15 days and a fresh mask will be provided only twice a month.”

Speaking to ThePrint, Dr P. Gangadhar Rao, member of the National COVID Committee of the Indian Medical Association, said the manner in which Sudhakar was manhandled by the police was “inhuman” and “violated” human rights.

“We strongly condemn the way he was taken into custody. He was not carrying a weapon, he was alone, the number of policemen outnumbered him. Why treat him like that? We also saw a video where a policeman beats him with a lathi,” said Dr Gangadhar.

He added that Rao was one of the most experienced anaesthetists the Andhra Pradesh government had.

“Our next step of action is to get Sudhakar to write an unconditional apology for having used filthy language, abusing the chief minister and the government. We will then take our appeal to the CM seeking that he be reinstated,” Gangadhar said.

Also read: Face shields, gowns, masks — the new attire for cabin crew post lockdown


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