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

It’s election day in B.C. (Black Press files)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

Upgrades underway at the Sunnyside Reservoir, adjacent to Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, raised concerns among some residents Tuesday (Oct. 20), however, stewards of the park say everything went off without a hitch. (Tracy Holmes photo)
‘No issue’ with South Surrey reservoir drainage, despite trail user concerns: urban forest steward

Forest visitor taken aback by ‘unprecedented flooding’ of trails

The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Fraser South region has doubled in the last two weeks. The number of cases in the Fraser East region has tripled.
Chart: Tyler Olsen
COVID-19 surge in B.C. fuelled by spikes in new cases in Fraser Valley & Surrey area

Number of newly confirmed cases has tripled in Fraser Valley and doubled in the Surrey/Langley area

Lotto winner Erwin Espiritu. (submitted photo: BCLC media relations)
$1M lotto surprise for Surrey dad buying takeout food for son’s birthday

‘When I went to show my son, he said that there was six zeros on the screen, not three’

(Image: CDC)
Fraser Health orders Surrey food-processing facility to close amid COVID-19 outbreak

Staff member at Surrey long-term care facility also tests positive for the virus

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

The family of Anika Janz, who died after collapsing at school, has launched a GoFundMe to assist with funeral proceedings. (GoFundMe photo)
Family of student who died launches GoFundMe

Rick Hansen Secondary School student Anika Janz, 14, died after collapsing in PE class

Most Read