UK scientists have begun trials on the BCG vaccine, originally developed in 1921 to stop tuberculosis, to see if it can help save lives from COVID-19.
The Guardian reports that there is evidence that the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine can help protect against other infections, and human trials have begun with the recruitment of 1,000 people at the University of Exeter.
While millions of people in the UK will have had the BCG jab as a child, if the trial results are positive, they would need to be vaccinated again to benefit from its protection.
Vaccines are designed to train the immune system in a very target way that leaves lasting protection against a particular infection, but this process also causes wide-spread changes to the immune system.
This then seems to heighten its response to other infections, and scientists are optimistic that it could lead to giving our bodies some protection against the coronavirus.
“This could be of major importance globally,” Prof John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, told the BBC.
“Whilst we don’t think it [the protection] will be specific to Covid, it has the potential to buy several years of time for the Covid vaccines to come through and perhaps other treatments to be developed.”
The University of Exeter trial is part of a wider international study, also taking place in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil, involving 10,000 volunteers in total. The trial is to focus on health and care workers, as they have a higher chance of being exposed to the coronavirus, which will help researchers know if the vaccine is effective sooner.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, is one of the authors of a Lancet article saying the BCG vaccine has the potential to “bridge the gap before a disease-specific vaccine is developed”.
“This would be an important tool in the response to Covid-19 and future pandemics,” the article states.
However, the BCG vaccine is not meant to become a long term solution to COVID-19. Any enhanced resilience to the coronavirus will wane over time, meaning anyone who received the BCG vaccine in their childhood will not have any protection from the virus. There has not been a routine BCG vaccination programme since 2005 due to the very low levels of tuberculosis.
The BCG vaccine will also not train the immune system to produce the antibodies and specialist white blood cells that would recognise and fight off the coronavirus.
The main goal is still a vaccine that specifically targets COVID-19, and ten such vaccines are in the final stages of clinical research, including the University of Oxford candidate.
If the BCG trials prove successful, and that the vaccine does provide defence against the coronavirus, it then could provide the world crucial time to develop a more effective and targeted vaccine to ultimately bring the pandemic under control.
It could also be rolled out in the case of future pandemics if it is found to protect against viral infections generally.
If you need pharmaceutical wholesale distributors, get in touch today.