Tuberculosis vaccine could help in fight against coronavirus

A tuberculosis (TB) vaccine given to more than 100 million babies each year could help adults fight coronavirus, health experts have said, after trials showed it stimulates the immune system.

Some 10,000 people in the UK will be recruited to investigate whether the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine could help people battle coronavirus until more effective vaccines are found.

Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil are involved in the programme, the UK’s arm of which is being led by the University of Exeter.

Professor John Campbell, of the university’s medical school, said: “BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against COVID-19.”

Researchers are hoping, he said, to confirm whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of COVID-19.

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“If it does, we could save lives by administering or topping up this readily available and cost-effective vaccination,” he added.

Anyone taking part will be given either the BCG vaccine, which is currently given to more than 100 million babies worldwide each year to protect against tuberculosis, or a placebo injection.

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Routine BCG vaccination, which begun in the UK in 1953, was stopped in 2005 because of low rates of TB in the general population.

BCG has previously been shown to reduce susceptibility to a range of diseases caused by viruses.

The vaccine trains the immune system to work harder against other infections and researchers want to find out why.

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It will be trialled on those working on “the COVID-19 front line, such as healthcare workers and care home workers”, Prof Campbell added.

He said: “Up until now, care home workers have been overlooked by most research.

“The trial provides us with a great opportunity to offer potential help to this important group of individuals who are providing healthcare to some of our most vulnerable citizens in important community settings.”

Bill and Melinda Gates have contributed more than $10m (£7.6m) to the trial, named BRACE, which is being coordinated by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Australia.

More than a million people have died after catching COVID-19 across the world, with well over 33 million people acquiring the disease, sometimes in its severest forms.

In the UK, the number of coronavirus-related deaths stands at more than 42,000, while almost 600,000 people have caught the illness.

The UK reported another 15,166 coronavirus cases and a further 81 deaths in the daily update on Saturday.

Around 10 million people fell ill with TB in 2018 globally and 1.5 million died, according to World Health Organisation figures.

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