Vaccine For COVID-19 May Have Already Been Existing For 100 Years

A century old vaccine took the attention of researchers around the world after it appeared effective to fight COVID-19. The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine was first developed for tuberculosis and may soon be enhanced to protect people from the novel coronavirus. 

The BCG vaccine has been provided to more than three billion people worldwide in the past 100 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) considers it as “the safest vaccine ever developed in the world," according to Dr. Denise Faustman, director of immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

After protecting people from tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine may take on a new role and help fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Faustman said the vaccine has "off-target effects" that could help the body develop immune responses to things other than TB, CNN reported Friday

"In other words, in clinical trial format, people started picking up positive benefit from getting the vaccine that had nothing to do with tuberculosis," she said. However, the scientific community has yet to understand how the vaccine directly contributes to immune responses to other diseases. 

Clinical trials with the tuberculosis vaccine have been ongoing worldwide to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. Some studies focused on developing countries where populations regularly received BCG.

One team in New York found that the areas with BCG vaccination policies had lower severe cases of COVID-19 and deaths linked to the disease. However, the study has limitations as data came from countries with different timelines for the coronavirus pandemic.

"It was a 30,000 foot comparison of the occurrence of COVID-19 infections in countries that were intensely using BCG vaccine, and those that were not," William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said. “We shouldn't draw any conclusions from that because ... the countries are very different. And so there may be many other reasons that determine how frequently Covid has occurred in those countries.

But Schaffner hopes that the 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine would bring its legacy to the fight against COVID-19. Human clinical trials with BCG vaccine are set to begin in several countries, including Australia and the Netherlands.

In the U.S., Faustman and her colleagues plan to test the vaccine’s efficacy on coronavirus patients in Boston. The team hopes to gather up to 4,000 health care workers for the trial.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Laboratory Test, Cure, Vaccine Andressa Parreiras, Biomedic, and Larissa Vuitika, biologist, work in a laboratory during the extraction of the virus genetic material on March 24, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. The Ministry of Health convened The Technological Vaccine Center of the Federal University of Minas Gerais laboratory to conduct research on the coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to diagnose, test and develop a vaccine. According to the Ministry of Health, as of Tuesday, March 24, Brazil has 1.891 confirmed cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and at least 34 recorded deceases. Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

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