New Trial Investigates If Existing BCG Vaccine Could Protect Against Covid-19

There's evidence the BCG vaccine protects against other diseases, including bacteria, viruses, and even cancers, by stimulating broader immune responses that keep the body prepared for fighting infections.. Konstantin/Shutterstock.com

A new global trial is about to investigate if the widely used BCG vaccine could also protect against Covid-19. The project isn’t looking to challenge the hunt for a specific Covid-19 vaccine, but whether the readily available vaccination could be used in the meantime to help protect people who are at greater risk of contracting the infection, such as healthcare workers. 

The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine was first used medically in 1921 and is given to protect people from tuberculosis. However, there is good evidence that suggests it protects against other diseases as well, including an astonishing variety of bacteria, viruses, and even cancers, by stimulating broader immune responses that help keep the body prepared for fighting infections. This intriguing quality has inspired a number of different teams to consider whether the BCG vaccine could, in fact, provide some protection against Covid-19. 

Now, the BRACE trial is looking to test out this theory in the largest trial of its kind, which will see over 10,000 healthcare staff across the world being given either the BCG vaccine or a placebo injection. The researchers will then look to see whether those who received the vaccine experienced reduced rates of Covid-19 infection or less severe symptoms. The trial is currently looking for recruits and it's unclear when the results of the trial will be made available. 

“People on the Covid-19 front line, including healthcare workers and care home workers, are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infection," Professor John Campbell, the UK lead on the BRACE study from the University of Exeter Medical School, said in a statement. "Up until now, care home workers have been overlooked by most research. The BRACE trial provides us with a great opportunity to offer potential help to this important group of individuals who are providing healthcare to some of our most vulnerable citizens in important community settings.” 

Back in May, The Lancet medical journal published a letter by four leading infectious disease and public health experts, including Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, arguing that “BCG might have a role in protecting health-care workers and other vulnerable individuals against severe coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).”

This was based on a number of previous clinical trials that have suggested the vaccine does a good job at reducing the rate of some diseases, most notably respiratory infections. For example, they cited one trial that found the BCG jab reduced deaths by 38 percent in newborn children in Guinea-Bissau, namely by reducing cases of pneumonia and sepsis. 

Last month, scientists published trial results showing that nearly 200 elderly people had substantially fewer infections (non-Covid-19) after having the vaccine. Although the trial did not specifically assess the risk of Covid-19, the researchers suggested their findings should encourage others to see whether the vaccine could be used as a potential protective approach against the coronavirus infection. 

Hopefully, the results from the BRACE trial will help towards a temporary albeit readily available protection while researchers continue the long and taxing task of developing a viable vaccine against Covid-19. 

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