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

Doug Routley has retained his seat as Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA. (Photo submitted)
Routley retains his post as Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA

NDP stronghold in the riding continues despite a strong challenge from the Greens’ Istace

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

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

Chemainus businessman Chris Istace is taking his first shot at provincial politics as the Green Party candidate in the Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Green Party pins Nanaimo-North Cowichan riding hopes on Istace

Leader Furstenau in town for the announcement of Chemainus businessman’s candidacy

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

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

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read