Could an age-old TB vaccine help in our fight against coronavirus?

accreditation
Could this existing vaccine help buy us time? A trial will be able to tell us.
Could this existing vaccine help buy us time? A trial will be able to tell us.
iStock

As the new coronavirus pandemic sweeps over the globe, hospitals are bracing themselves for grim repercussions like shortages of supplies, beds and vital protective equipment for their staff.

We know so far that there is no specific treatment or antiviral for Covid-19, nor is there a vaccine for the new coronavirus strain. But experts are trying to win time and take the burden off strained healthcare systems by coming up with the best interim solution – an existing method that's been around for years.

And as reports mentioned that Australian researchers are trialing an existing TB vaccine against Covid-19, experts worldwide are wondering if this might work.

What is the BCG vaccine?

The Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was developed over a period of 13 years, from 1908 to 1921, hence the nickname “old faithful” in some circles. The vaccine is developed from a weakened strain of Myobacterium bovis, a bacterium similar to M. Tuberculosis, which causes the disease.

This vaccine is administered to babies in areas where the prevalence of tuberculosis is high. It builds up the so-called “frontline” immune system to help fight against M.Tuberculosis without actually causing the disease.

Why are they testing it against Covid-19?

A team of researchers in Australia will fast-track the BCG vaccine in humans to see how Covid-19 symptoms respond. This vaccine was specifically chosen as it boosts the immunity significantly, training it to fight germs with greater intensity, according to a statement.

According to research, the BCG vaccine possesses a unique immune-enhancing effect due to its ability to activate innate immunity, the body’s so-called “first line of defence” against any introducers – not only bacteria, but viruses too.

Researchers are also interested in this vaccine because it has been in use for centuries with minimal side-effects. The most serious side-effect this vaccine may cause, is a keloid scar (a granuloma) at the site of the injection.

What will the trial entail?

Right now, the trial will be conducted in Australia with over 4 000 healthcare workers to see whether the vaccine has an effect on Covid-19 symptoms, according to researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.

The so-called BRACE trial will build upon existing research to see whether the vaccine will bring down the level of viruses in people infected with the Covid-19 virus.

Researcher Professor Kathryn North A. C. says, "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."

Experts do however reiterate that this vaccine is not a specific antidote to the virus. If it is proven to work, it will be distributed in large quantities to those at risk, such as the elderly.

A South African context

Should this be a successful intervention in the meantime, a potential shortage in South Africa may be of concern. According to a report in The Lancet Global Health, the global availability and procurement of BCG have been a challenge since 2013.

In the Western Cape alone, where the vaccine is often recommended at birth, shortages were already experienced as early as 2015. But companies have been trying to combat these shortages, according to a previous Health24 report.

READ | First volunteers to receive vaccine for the new coronavirus in early trial

READ | The new coronavirus: The urgent, but long race for a vaccine

READ | How does a severe coronavirus infection possibly injure the heart?

Image credit: iStock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Zama zama crackdown: What are your thoughts on West Village residents taking the law into their own hands?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Authorities should bring in the army already
10% - 1329 votes
Illegal miners can't be scapegoated for all crime
50% - 6446 votes
What else did we expect without no proper policing
36% - 4592 votes
Vigilante groups are also part of the problem
3% - 441 votes
Vote
Rand - Dollar
16.26
-0.0%
Rand - Pound
19.83
-0.0%
Rand - Euro
16.77
+0.0%
Rand - Aus dollar
11.57
-0.3%
Rand - Yen
0.12
+0.0%
Gold
1,791.00
+0.1%
Silver
20.41
+0.5%
Palladium
2,269.00
-0.9%
Platinum
960.00
-0.1%
Brent Crude
99.60
+2.2%
Top 40
64,617
0.0%
All Share
71,265
0.0%
Resource 10
65,851
0.0%
Industrial 25
87,063
0.0%
Financial 15
15,964
0.0%
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.

LEARN MORE