BCG vaccine that was once given to thousands of children every year might reduce the risk of catching the novel coronavirus.
The BCG jab that was developed almost a century ago was injected to every ten to fourteen years old individual in the United Kingdom to protect them against a bacterial lung infection, tuberculosis (TB).
Doctors abandoned mass BCG vaccination as the lung infection rates dropped and they switched to targeting only those pupils who were most at risk such as children or babies living with their infected relatives.
Now researchers are about to start testing to see if this could protect people against highly contagious SARS-CoV-2.
If trials become successful, it will provide an easily available and cheap method to warding off the COVID-19 by using the vaccine which costs only £30 a dose.
Researchers are hoping that it will turbo-change the immune system and strengthen the innate immunity and it can easily detect and destroy the novel coronavirus before it wreaks havoc on the body.
In the frantic search for a vaccine for prevention, scientists are focused on specifically targeted drugs such as experimental jabs are being made with the tiny parts of the virus’s genetic material.
The science is that our immune system detects the genetic material of virus and releases antibodies to attack and fight against infection. When antibodies are exposed to the real virus, the immune system is primed and ready and that’s how most vaccines work.
But the BCG jab works differently. Instead of specifically targeting the virus, it revs up the whole immune system and snuffs out any invading virus particles.
The NHS says that BCG jab may offer protection for more than 60 years but researchers are not sure if adults who were already vaccinated in their childhood will get any protection from the SARS-CoV-2 because the evidence is lacking.
Several studies in the past years have shown that BCG jab can be effective against many infectious diseases other than TB.
A study published in The BMJ in 2016, revealed that children given the BCG vaccine were 30 per cent less likely to die from any infectious disease in the first year of their lives than those who were not vaccinated with it.
The BCG vaccine has been used by the NHS for more than 40 years to fire up the body’s immune system to stop the return of blood cancer in patients who had surgery for the disease.
Injected into the bladder, BCG jab prevents the recurrence of tumour in more than two-thirds of patients. Studies are underway to know if it will also the return of other cancers such as lung and bowel.
The reason behind BCG vaccine acting as a general immune booster is maybe that it is a live vaccine that means it is made with an attenuated microbe that causes TB. Majority of modern vaccines contain inactivated virus or bacterium and don’t fire up the immune system in the same way as BCG do.
Researchers started recruiting volunteers for clinical trials into the value of BCG jab in fighting SARS-CoV-2 at Radboud University in The Netherlands. They plan to inject thousand heath workers on the front-line with either the BCG jab or the placebo.
Then they will observe if the rate of infections is lower in the BCG group or not.
Similar clinical trials are planned at the Exeter University in the United Kingdom, Melbourne University in Australia and Athens University in Greece. If trials confirm its effectivity then the jab could be available for the public within months.
A professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, Peter Openshaw said the BCG vaccine can be effective as it seems to trigger ‘trained immunity’ where the whole immune system is alert. The level of alertness remains high for several weeks or months after the vaccination.