Corona virus: Can a vaccine developed 100 years ago save humanity?

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An archive 1931 photo of the BCG vaccines against tuberculosis, taken at the Institut Pasteur in Paris

Scientists in the United Kingdom began to conduct tests on the vaccine “Basilus Calmette Guerin”, known as “BCG”, which was developed in 1921, to see if it could save lives from Covid-19 disease.

The vaccine is designed to stop tuberculosis, but there is some evidence that it can provide protection against other diseases as well.

About 1,000 people will participate in a trial of the vaccine at the University of Exeter.

However, while millions of people in the United Kingdom were vaccinated with the BCG vaccine when they were children, it is believed that they will need to be vaccinated again to benefit from the vaccine.

The vaccines are designed to train the body’s immune system in a targeted, focused way that leaves permanent protection against contracting a specific infection.

But this process also causes widespread changes in the immune system. This seems to lead to an increased response to infection with other diseases, and scientists hope that this vaccine will give our bodies an advantage in facing the Corona virus.

Professor John Campbell of the University of Exeter School of Medicine told the BBC: “This could be of great importance worldwide.”

Campbell added, “While we do not think it (protection) will be specific to Covid disease, it does have the potential to gain many years of time that Covid vaccines need to enter into use and until other treatments may be developed.”

The experiment in the United Kingdom is part of an international study, also taking place in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil, with a total of 10,000 people participating in these experiences.

These trials will focus on health and health care workers, as they are most vulnerable to infection with the Coronavirus, and so researchers will know more quickly if the vaccine is effective or not.

Sam Hilton, a GP from Exeter, is taking part in the trials because, as a physician, he is more likely than anyone else to contract Covid disease.

Sam said to the BBC: “There is a very good hypothesis that the BCG vaccine may make you less likely to have a health problem when you transmit a Covid infection to you.”

Sam added, “So I see the vaccine as an opportunity for me to have more protection, which means that I will be more likely to work this winter.”

Dr. Tedros Adanum Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, is one of the authors of an article published in the Lancet medical journal saying that the BCG vaccine has the potential to “bridge the gap before a vaccine for the disease is developed.”

The article adds that “this (vaccine) will be an important tool in the response to Covid-19 disease and future epidemics.” But the BCG vaccine will not be a long-term solution.

Any enhanced resistance to Covid disease is expected to weaken, which means that people who were vaccinated with BCG in childhood will not be protected anymore. Also, the BCG vaccine has not been used in the UK since 2005 because levels of TB disease are so low.

In addition, the vaccine will not train the immune system to produce antibodies and specialized white blood cells that recognize and fight the Corona virus.

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Final stage

The biggest goal remains to develop a vaccine that specifically targets the Coronavirus. Ten of these vaccines are now in the final stages of clinical studies, and one of them is one that is being developed at the University of Oxford.

Professor Andrew Pollard, from the group of researchers working to develop the Oxford vaccine, told the BBC: “The way most vaccines work is to induce a very specific immune response against the germ that is trying to prevent its spread.

Professor Pollard said, “But in order to induce a good immune response, there is also an indeterminate” increase “in the immune response that changes the way the immune system can respond in the future.

Pollard added, saying: “The problem we have today is that I cannot tell you what you can do with other vaccines in an attempt to improve your ability to respond to the Corona virus because we have no evidence whatsoever.”

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