In the ongoing BCG vaccine trial, a few elderly residents of Chennai have been receiving calls from persons representing the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), offering the vaccine as a protection and immunity booster. But these residents, who had tested negative for COVID-19, are not being appropriately informed that this is a trial.
Last month, the State government gave its approval to the ICMR-National Institute for Research in Tuberculosis (NIRT) for the trial to study the efficacy of the vaccine in reducing the severity of COVID-19 and the resultant hospitalisation among those aged above 60. Nearly 350 participants and 120 members in a control group were being recruited from zones identified as COVID-19 hotspots in Chennai and Tiruvallur districts.
A few days ago, a caller informed an elderly person that his swab samples, taken at a fever camp in north Chennai, had returned negative and asked whether he could come for the vaccination in two days. He was not informed about the ongoing trial.
The BCG vaccine administered to a newborn gives protection only up to 60 years of age. Now with the coronavirus disease, people are at the risk of cold and cough. The BCG vaccine will give protection during this time by boosting immunity, the person said.
The senior citizen was asked to come to Chetpet and offered free transport. Another caller claimed the vaccination was meant for senior citizens, only if the samples of others in a household returned negative for COVID-19. Both said the vaccination should be taken within a week of testing negative for COVID-19, but was not compulsory.
A Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) fever surveyor said, Persons can get vaccinated if they wish to. They should be above 50 years, should have tested negative for COVID-19, not have any co-morbid condition and not have undergone any surgeries... However, he, too, said the vaccination would build the immunity of the elderly against the novel coronavirus.
However, a health expert said that as of now, the BCG vaccine was not recommended for the older people. This is a special situation in which they should have permission from the persons to administer the vaccine. There should be informed consent, he said.
Pros and cons explained
However, A. Devakumaar, president, Rotary Club of Chennai Rainbow, which is supporting the ICMR-NIRT in recruiting volunteers, said they were explaining the pros and cons of the vaccine trial to senior citizens and recruiting upon consent.
My mother and mother-in-law have received the vaccine. We give clear explanations to elderly citizens. This being based on a hypothesis, we also asked ICMR-NIRT whether priority treatment should be given if they acquired the infection after getting vaccinated, or any other disease. They have assured that all individuals will be monitored closely, he said.
The club has also drafted a form to ascertain the eligibility of senior citizens for the trial.
A senior official of ICMR-NIRT told The Hindu: The trial has just started. We are providing complete information to the persons. They are informed that this is not a COVID-19 vaccine. Only when the persons give their consent are they screened to be part of the programme, he said.
GCC health officials could not be reached for comment.