Have you ever wondered why the numbers of people contaminated with COVID-19 are substantially bigger in the western part of our continent than in the former communist countries?
Subscribers to EURACTIV’s daily newsletter The Capitals and the Coronavirus tracker haven’t failed to notice that in central and eastern Europe, the number of confirmed cases, of hospitalisations, and of deaths is much smaller.
In recent days, on top of the list of most-read stories, especially in eastern Europe, are the translations and adaptations of an article by Science magazine titled “Can a century-old TB vaccine steel the immune system against the new coronavirus?”
The vaccine, known as BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin), is indeed 100 years old and has been unevenly used in the eastern and western part of Europe.
According to Prof. Dr Lyubima Despotova, president of the Bulgarian Society for Long-Term Care and Palliative Medicine, the worldwide distribution map of COVID-19 “overlaps” with the vaccine policy map. Countries that have abandoned BCG are currently in the midst of the epidemic and are heavily affected.
She cited the example of Germany – which publishes a map tracing the development of the epidemic throughout its territory and illustrating the spread of the disease in great detail – and stressed that there is a significant difference between former East Germany and former West Germany: the former GDR is up to three times less affected.
Another example she gave is Portugal, which practiced BCG vaccination, unlike Spain, one of the most affected countries. A possible glimpse of hope comes from the fact that BCG vaccination has been widespread in developing countries.
We will leave it to scientists to confirm or dismantle this theory. There could be other explanations. Possibly the former communist countries continue to be less exposed to massive movements of population, illustrated by the size of airports in the West.
Also possibly, the population in Eastern Europe is more disciplined in respecting the instructions of self-isolation and confinement. In capitals in Eastern Europe, one can hardly see anyone in the street without a mask. In Brussels, the author of this text has seen few people wearing a mask, and actually, masks are not easy to come by, which is scandalous.
Possibly, Eastern Europeans take the coronavirus threat more seriously. In the same vein, Eastern Europeans have staunchly opposed migration, as if the “aliens” would destroy their societies in the manner of science-fiction movies. Eastern Europeans, in general, fail to understand the Western laissez-faire.
There could be other reasons as well. But the BCG track will be investigated – researchers from four countries will soon start clinical trials with 1,000 healthcare workers in Dutch hospitals. Perhaps vintage medicine will be vindicated in the end.
Make sure you stay up-to-date with everything to do with coronavirus across the capitals with EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, regularly updated with the help of our pan-European network of reporters and media partners.
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Look out for…
NATO foreign ministers meeting for their first-ever virtual teleconference tomorrow.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]