Several researchers from across the globe are hoping to dramatically downgrade novel coronavirus (COVID-19) fatalities with the use of a decades-old vaccine for tuberculosis, the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine (BCG).
“Researchers in a handful of countries are testing a century-old tuberculosis vaccine to see if it can give a boost to the immune system to help it fight off the novel coronavirus now causing the COVID-19 pandemic,” a Forbes report outlined Tuesday.
The vaccine would potentially boost protection of the respiratory tract with regard to viral infections, seemingly lending itself a defense against severe COVID-19 symptoms.
As noted by Forbes, “Italy and the United States, two of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic, do not have universal BCG vaccination policies.”
Clinical trials for BCG are expected to soon take place in Europe and Australia, with a particular focus on health care workers, who are at higher risk to catch the infection than the general population.
“This trial will allow the vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19 symptoms to be properly tested, and may help save the lives of our heroic frontline healthcare workers,” said a statement from MCRI Director Professor Kathryn North, referencing a planned trial in Melbourne.
Though the increasingly controversial World Health Organization (WHO) has previously given a “low confidence rating” for the potential boosting agents of BCG, Gonzalo H. Otazu of New York Institute of Technology’s Department of Biomedical Sciences had a more optimistic take.
“There has been a long history of reports of BCG producing a series of beneficial immune responses,” Otazu explained to Forbes. “For instance, a study in Guinea-Bissau found that children vaccinated with BCG were observed to have a 50 percent reduction in overall mortality, which was attributed to the vaccine’s effect on reducing respiratory infections and sepsis.”
“We found that there was a reduction in the number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 per million inhabitants in countries that have universal BCG vaccination (usually at birth) compared to the countries that never established such policy,” Otazu added. “The earlier the establishment of such policy, the stronger the reduction in mortality, consistent with a protection to the elderly population which is more severely affected by COVID-19.”
“Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology developed the vaccine candidate VPM1002 based off of BCG earlier this century,” Forbes noted, “which will be used for the trial starting soon in Germany. VPM1002 has been shown to protect the respiratory tracts of mice from viral infections.”
Adar C. Poonawalla, CEO and Executive Director of Serum Institute of India, said in a statement that VPM1002 “can be manufactured using state-of-the-art manufacturing methods which would make millions of doses available in a very short time.”
In other optimistic news, the French government earlier this week officially sanctioned chloroquine, a drug often used to fight malaria, for certain patients infected with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
France made the move after infectious diseases specialist Didier Raoult announced new clinical results, which can be accessed here, that show 78 out of 80 patients treated with chloroquine recovered within five days, reported Trustnodes.
On Sunday night, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.