Can a BCG shot protect you from COVID-19? Researchers think so

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The UK is trying a new approach to fight against COVID-19, researchers running the British arm of the global trial say that they will be testing the BCG tuberculosis vaccine on healthcare workers in Britain for its effectiveness against the virus.

Developed in 1921, the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine which is used against tuberculosis induces a broad innate immune-system response and some evidence suggests that it can protect against infection or severe illness.

John Campbell, professor at the University of Exeter Medical School says that the BCG vaccine has been proven to improve immunity in a generalized manner and that it can provide protection against COVID-19 to an extent.

The University expects to conduct trials in around 1,000 people in the UK with more than 10,000 healthcare staff to be recruited globally.

In the UK millions of people have already taken the BCG shots in their childhood and researchers suggest that if the study works then they will have to be vaccinated again to ensure protection.

“We are seeking to establish whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of COVID-19,” says Prof. Campbell and who further adds if it succeeds, many lives can be saved by distributing or stocking this already available and cost-effective vaccination.

The UK trial is part of the International Brace study launched in April which is also taking place in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil. The BCG vaccine is also being tested as protection against COVID-19 in South Africa and has shown so far a 73 percent decrease in infection in the nose, throat and lungs.

Sam Hilton, a General Physician from Exeter, who is taking part in trials says that “there is quite a good theory BCG might make you less likely to get unwell when you get COVID. So I see it as a potential for me to get protected a bit.”

The British trial is recruiting volunteers before winter months that officials have warned a second wave of the virus may kick off in these months.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that restrictions to curb the pandemic could be in place until spring.