Clinical trials are looking at whether the BCG vaccine, offered to babies in Nunavut to protect them from tuberculosis, can relieve the symptoms of COVID-19. (File image)
Researchers hope trials will show “reduced prevalence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms”
There is evidence that the BCG vaccine can activate the immune response to provide cross-protection. In previous studies, Danish researchers have found that the vaccine prevents about 30% of infections in the first year after administration.
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, who has worked extensively in Nunavut, said she still had doubts about the vaccine’s ability to fight the new coronavirus.
“They probably gave BCG to China … and clearly it didn’t work. Inuit babies get BCG, but their TB rate is still extremely high, “said Banerji, who promoted Nunavut’s baby immunization programs with antibodies to respiratory syncytial virus.
All babies in Nunavut are offered the Bacille Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, vaccine. It would offer 80% protection against tuberculosis for 15 years. Yet in Nunavut, TB rates remain about 30 times higher than elsewhere in Canada.
Although the BCG vaccine does not prevent tuberculosis in all cases, it is said to help prevent more serious related illnesses that children may contract, such as tuberculosis-related meningitis, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada .
The Nunavut Department of Health said in a statement to Nunatsiaq News that it is aware of past and ongoing studies of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
“The Department of Health is committed to using evidence-based protocols to treat all infectious and communicable diseases. When clinical trials produce a viable treatment or vaccine approved for use in Canada, the Department of Health will use it in Nunavut, “said the release.
Meanwhile, researchers are seriously re-examining the BCG vaccine, which was first developed 100 years ago, after a 2016 study found that the vaccine was associated with a reduction in “all-cause mortality” .
To test how BCG works in the fight against COVID-19, Australian infectious disease researchers will launch a clinical trial involving 4,000 healthcare workers, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne announced on March 28.
World Health Organization chief executive Tedros Adhanom, who called for global support and assistance in the fight against COVID-19, approved the new trial, the institute said.
The study, led by Nigel Curtis, a clinician-scientist who heads the institute’s infectious disease research group, plans to build on previous studies, the institute said.
“We hope to see a reduction in the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms in health workers receiving the BCG vaccine,” Curtis said in the release.
Similar trials are underway in several other countries.
Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ignatius Fong, University of Toronto, told Nunatsiaq News that he thought BCG would not be treatment for COVID-19, but it “could make the disease milder in those who are infected. “
“There are currently many trials around the world and we may have preliminary results in a few weeks,” said Fong.