The BCG vaccine could be used to protect against coronavirus - the science explained

The BCG vaccine could be used to protect against coronavirus - the science explained (photo: Shutterstock)

A widely used tuberculosis vaccine will be tested on frontline care workers in the UK for its effectiveness against Covid-19.

The vaccine, called Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (or, more commonly, BCG), induces innate immune system response and has been shown to protect against infection or severe illness with other respiratory pathogens.

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A readily available and cost effective vaccine’

The UK study is part of an existing Australian-led trial, which launched in April. It also has arms in Spain, the Netherlands and Brazil, with the BCG vaccine also being tested as protection against Covid-19 in South Africa.

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said, “BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against Covid-19.

“We are seeking to establish whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of Covid-19. If it does, we could save lives by administering or topping up this readily available and cost-effective vaccination.”

The UK trial is being based out of Exeter, and is seeking to recruit 1,000 people who work in care homes and community healthcare nearby. Globally, more than 10,000 healthcare staff will be part of the study.

Developed in 1921

The BCG vaccine was developed in 1921 as a way to stop tuberculosis, with millions of people in the UK receiving the BCG injection as a child.

Vaccines are designed to train a person’s immune system in a highly targeted way that leaves lasting protection against one particular infection. However, the process can cause widespread changes in the immune system, and can heighten the response to other infections.

Using the BCG vaccine could potentially make people less likely to get unwell when contracting Covid-19.

The BCG vaccine will not be a long term solution to tackling Covid-19, as it will not train the immune system to produce the antibodies and specialist white blood cells that recognise and fight off the coronavirus.

The vaccine has not been routinely used in the UK since 2005 because of low levels of tuberculosis.