Study participant Sean O’Connell is given a shot in this undated handout photo. Canadian researchers have launched a study to determine if a century-old vaccine against tuberculosis can offer some protection against COVID-19. Investigators at the University Health Network in Toronto say they hope to test a theory that Bacille Calmette Guerin, or BCG, can reduce the incidence and severity of COVID-19 infection. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - University Health Network

Canadian researchers explore whether TB vaccine offers COVID-19 protection

The trial is open to police, fire and health-care workers who are at greater risk of COVID-19 exposure

Canadian researchers have launched a study to determine if a century-old vaccine against tuberculosis can offer some protection against COVID-19.

Investigators at the University Health Network in Toronto say they hope to test a theory that Bacille Calmette Guerin, or BCG, can reduce the incidence and severity of COVID-19 infection.

The trial is open to police, fire and health-care workers who are at greater risk of COVID-19 exposure, with researchers hoping to recruit more than 3,600 participants.

Principal co-investigator Dr. Alexandre Zlotta says that if the inexpensive vaccine proves helpful, it can be rapidly deployed to offer temporary protection until a COVID-specific vaccine is widely available.

While BCG continues to be used in European and developing countries, Canada discontinued routine use in the early 1970s, according to Toronto Public Health.

Tuberculosis cases in Canada are among the lowest in the world, although certain vulnerable populations are at higher risk for the infectious, bacterial disease.

Dubbed “COBRA,” the double-blind placebo-controlled study is unfolding alongside trials in Germany and the United States. Experts expect to release results in May 2021.

Interest in BCG emerged early in the pandemic when researchers noticed some countries with higher rates of BCG coverage also had significantly lower rates of COVID-19 deaths. But more recent analysis reflecting the pandemic’s movement across the globe bucks that idea.

“Lack of evidence for BCG vaccine protection from severe COVID-19,” states the headline of a letter published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept. 29.

Citing updated analysis based on data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the study notes Bolivia, Panama, Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa had the largest increases in COVID-19 deaths on Aug. 1, even though the countries also have high BCG coverage.

The letter concludes by saying ongoing randomized controlled trials should provide more concrete answers.

UHN says the Canadian study uses an improved version of the vaccine, which researchers expect “will help muster a stronger immune response.”

“The big advantage here is this vaccine has been given to billions of people around the world in the past decades,” Zlotta says in a release.

“It is safe and readily available. If the study is successful, this could become an important strategy to control the secondary waves of the pandemic.”

The study is being funded by The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Jennifer Rice BC NDP North Coast Incumbent was re-elected for a third according to the preliminary results on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson speaks during a drive-in car rally campaign stop at a tour bus operator, in Delta, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Andrew Wilkinson stepping down as B.C. Liberal leader

Will stay on until the next party leader is chosen

Harvesters participating in the extended commercial halibut season will need to land their catch in either Prince Rupert (pictured), Vancouver, or Port Hardy by Dec. 14. (File photo)
B.C.’s commercial halibut season extended three weeks

COVID-19 market disruptions at the root of DFO’s decision

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

VicPD and B.C. Conservation Officer Service teamed up to free two bucks who were entangled in a fishing net and dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them. (VicPD)
VIDEO: Police, B.C. Conservation help two bucks caught in one fishing net

Bucks were also dragging a wheelbarrow sized piece of driftwood behind them

A heavy police presence was spotted in Lumby, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Facebook)
Police situation leads to ‘hold and secure’ at North Okanagan school

Police call for social media blackout in ongoing incident

Most Read