A century-old tuberculosis vaccine that also offers protection against a variety of other infections can play a role in preventing death from corona virus or severe illness due to diseases that have destroyed the nation and the world.
Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine has been widely used in developing countries to protect against tuberculosis since it was introduced in 1921.
This is the vaccine most widely given in medical history and last year was given to 120 million newborns worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
But about 10 years ago, scientists began to notice the vaccine’s “unsuitable effect”, “It offers survival benefits against unrelated infections,” Dr. Denise Faustman, director of immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital.
BCG was found to protect against respiratory, viral, parasitic and bacterial infections, said Faustman, who has worked on several clinical trials using drugs to treat type 1 diabetes.
This vaccine has never been given to Americans and is not currently available in that country because it is not produced here and tests for tuberculosis can be done by other means.
Many residents of other countries who have been hit by coronavirus also never get the vaccine. “In countries where BCG was never given or stopped 50, 60 years ago – the death rate does not make sense,” Faustman said, quoting Spain and Italy.
But looking at countries where populations are getting vaccines such as Japan, Taiwan and India, “so far there has been only a slight effect with COVID,” Faustman said, adding that clinical trials had to be carried out to prove that the effects were from BCG.
BCG vaccination studies show the drug works by changing the innate immune system, which can get a stronger response to infection.
Some clinical trials in humans have shown BCG to reduce the incidence of acute upper respiratory tract infections in adults by 70% to 80% and others show that in high mortality settings, BCG vaccination reduces all causes of infant death by more than one-third.
Now it’s time to start BCG clinical trials here in the US and Faustman says he hopes to start within the next month.
The trial will include high-risk health care workers as participants and the results can be seen in less than one year, according to Faustman.
“We have a strain of BCG that is known to be very strong so now we are in the process of starting something,” Faustman said.
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