We all know that healthcare workers are on the front line when it comes to COVID-19, so it’s no surprise they’re at an increased risk of catching it. Thankfully, there are three new trials being organized or currently underway to test the effects of the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine on healthcare workers.
The Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine has historically been given to protect against tuberculosis (TB) and is the most widely used of all current vaccines. BCG is named after the French microbiologists Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin, who began their research for the vaccine in early 1900 and successfully tested it in humans in 1921. BCG is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines for adults and children, and it first appeared on the list in 1977.
While BCG won’t directly target COVID-19, it can provide a boost to the immune system, which researchers are hoping may lead to better protection against the virus or a milder infection overall. With the current shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment), requiring healthcare workers to often reuse the same masks and gowns for several days, a vaccine that may boost their immune system is an attractive option.
In Australia, the BRACE trial is looking to recruit 4,170 healthcare workers across certain hospitals in the country. As of April 1st, 300 healthcare workers at the Melbourne Children’s Campus have already been included in the trial.
Qualified healthcare workers will either receive the BCG vaccine or no vaccine in order to test the effectiveness of BCG to protect against COVID-19 or reduce the severity of COVID-19.
Leading the BRACE trial, Professor Nigel Curtis credits the fast ramp up time in getting the trial started to generous donations from Sarah & Lachlan Murdoch and The Royal Children’s Hospital, stating: “These sorts of trials normally take around 8 to 12 months to start, but with the early support of philanthropy, we were able to start within 3 weeks.”
Meanwhile in the Netherlands, their trial is looking to recruit 1,500 healthcare workers from places such as emergency rooms and wards because of their expected exposure from treating people infected with COVID-19. As of early April, 800 healthcare workers have already enrolled in the trial.
Qualified healthcare workers will either receive the BCG vaccine or a placebo (an injection that appears similar to the BCG vaccine, but has no actual vaccine/medication) in order to test the effectiveness of BCG in reducing the number of days of unplanned absenteeism from work for any reason. The healthcare workers enrolled in this study will not know whether they have received the BCG vaccine or the placebo.
Marc Bonten, professor of molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases at UMC Utrecht, has initiated this research with Mihai Netea, professor of experimental internal medicine. Bonten states: “We are in the middle of the outbreak, so we want to have the results of this study as soon as possible…If it turns out that the vaccine does indeed provide extra protection, we can also offer it to other employees.”
In the United States, the Faustman Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital is also currently organizing a trial to test the BCG vaccine on healthcare workers to see if it can help protect against COVID-19 and alleviate associated complications. Once approvals and funding are in place, Denise Faustman, MD, PhD, and her team are looking to enroll about 4,000 healthcare workers into the trial.
Faustman has been studying the potential of the BCG vaccine to prevent and reverse autoimmune diseases for the last 20 years. Faustman says: “BCG is heralded by the World Health Organization as the safest vaccine ever developed in the world…Greater than 3 billion people have gotten it.”
If effective, the BCG vaccine would be a much-needed aid in combatting the spread of COVID-19 to our healthcare workers.
By: Carol Riew