Healthcare workers trial TB vaccine for coronavirus protection

Matt Woodley

27/03/2020 4:20:21 PM

Around 4000 doctors, nurses and other medical staff will test the efficacy of a century-old tuberculosis vaccine.

Nurse washing hands
The BGC vaccine has been used for more than 100 years and is effective against other upper respiratory illnesses.

An Australian multi-centre, randomised controlled clinical trial of the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine has been endorsed by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The trial will be run by infectious disease researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) to determine whether the immune response-boosting effect of the BCG vaccine can protect against the novel coronavirus, given it has been shown to be effective against similar viruses.
A number of Australian healthcare workers have been infected with coronavirus already, while ongoing personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages have left doctors and nurses vulnerable.
There are currently no vaccines or other proven preventive therapeutic interventions available to protect healthcare workers on the frontline.
MCRI Director Professor Kathryn North said the institute would be ‘relentless’ in its pursuit of preventions and treatments for the coronavirus.
‘Australian medical researchers have a reputation for conducting rigorous, innovative trials,’ she said.
‘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.’
Trial principle Professor Nigel Curtis, a clinician–scientist who heads MCRI’s Infectious Diseases Research Group, said the new research will build on previous studies showing the vaccine’s effectiveness in boosting immune responses.  
‘We hope to see a reduction in the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms in healthcare workers receiving the BCG vaccination,’ he said.
‘We aim to enrol 4000 healthcare workers from hospitals around Australia, including the Melbourne Campus’ Royal Children’s Hospital to allow us to accurately say whether it can lessen the severity of COVID-19 symptoms.
‘We need to enrol them in the coming weeks, so the clock is definitely ticking.’
Although originally developed against tuberculosis – and still given to over 130 million babies annually for that purpose – BCG also boosts humans’ ‘frontline’ immunity, training it to respond to germs with greater intensity.
A number of studies have already shown individuals who receive the vaccine develop fewer viral respiratory tract infections than those who haven’t, and the researchers hope this improved ‘innate’ immunity will provide crucial time to develop and validate a vaccine specific to the new coronavirus.
The proposed trial is based on an existing MCRI trial, which has allowed rapid but thorough human ethics approvals, and involves sites across Australia. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne has been announced as the first site for the trial, with more locations expected to be announced in coming days.
‘The federal and state health departments, together with Australian and international philanthropists, have shown a willingness and capacity to step up to fund a number of COVID-19 related trials,’ Professor North said.
‘Using rapidly sourced and immediately deployable funds, we will be relentless in our pursuit of preventions and treatments for this unprecedented pandemic.
‘These trials will allow the rapid advancement of the most promising candidates to clinical practice, giving us the most number of shots on goal against COVID-19 as possible.’
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
Log in below to join the conversation.

coronavirus COVID-19 healthcare workers tuberculosis vaccine

newsGP weekly poll Which public health issue will most significantly impact general practice in Australia in the next 10–20 years?

newsGP weekly poll Which public health issue will most significantly impact general practice in Australia in the next 10–20 years?



Login to comment

Dr Lesley Ramage   28/03/2020 10:07:25 AM

Does anybody know if this has implications for those of us who received BCG as teenagers in high school?

Dr Shashwat Ramgopal Rastogi   28/03/2020 2:43:01 PM

What does this mean for a lot of GPs who are in active practice and received childhood BCG vaccinations??

Dr Dannielle Maria Kolos   28/03/2020 3:34:19 PM

Most doctors have already been vaccinated against TB as medical students, at least we were in the late 1060's

Dr Anne Marjorie Stanton Glew   30/03/2020 7:57:51 PM

Bring it on

Dr Matthew Samani   31/03/2020 5:13:00 PM

How can I join to this trial? I am happy to join to this trial and taking a BCG vaccine again.
Matthew Samani

Dr Alexander Aristoff   1/04/2020 12:15:23 PM

I guess it would be interesting to see the break down of serious cases into previously vaccinated and naive patients.I got BCG several times in the 60-70s,growing up on a wrong side of Berlin Wall,so,only time will tell.