There is no vaccine as yet against the novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, that is spreading rapidly around the world. But scientists in several countries are testing a century-old tuberculosis (TB) vaccine to see if it might boost the immune system to reduce respiratory symptoms in people who get new coronavirus infections.
Researchers in Australia and Europe are testing whether the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine, introduced in the 1920s to fight tuberculosis, might be deployed to combat COVID-19. Clinical trials are focused on two groups at high-risk for COVID-19: health care workers and the elderly.
Here is what these scientists feel. The BCG vaccine contains a live but weakened strain of tuberculosis bacteria that provokes the body to develop antibodies to attack TB bacteria. This is called an adaptive immune response, because the body develops a defense against a specific disease-causing microorganism, or pathogen. Most vaccines create an adaptive immune response to a single pathogen.
Unlike other vaccines, the BCG may also boost the innate immune system, first-line defenses that keep a variety of pathogens from entering the body. One study in Guinea-Bissau found 50 per cent lower mortality rates in children vaccinated with BCG than in kids who did not get this. That is a much bigger drop in deaths than could be explained by a reduction in TB cases.
However they do not have data yet on the effect of BCG vaccination on coronaviruses in general or SARS-CoV-2 in particular.
There are also many BCG vaccines, with different capacities. They need to determine which BCG vaccines might have the best ability to boost the immune system to fight COVID-19.
They say it might take several months to get results from trials testing the BCG vaccine to fight COVID-19. In the meantime, people should not rush to get it because it has not been widely tested and might even be harmful. Also, a run on the BCG vaccine to fight COVID-19 might cause shortages for children who need it to prevent TB.