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

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

A woman wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 uses walking sticks while walking up a hill, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Interior Health reports 83 more COVID-19 infections overnight

46 cases are now associated with a COVID-19 community cluster in Revelstoke

Peter Beckett. ~ File photo
Supreme Court of Canada to decide if it will hear appeal in 2010 wife murder trial

Peter Beckett has stood trial twice for murder in connection with the death of his wife, Laura Letts-Beckett

Revelstoke City Hall. (File)
Revelstoke COVID-19 cases spike to 46

Mayor Gary Sulz expects positive cases to increase

Slocan Valley communities struggling with the need for high-speed internet should consider Kaslo’s model, according to the Kaslo infoNet Society. Photo: Black Press
Follow Kaslo’s lead for fibre service, says proponent

Tim Ryan of Kaslo infoNet Society says bringing high-speed internet to rural homes is possible

A tongue-in-cheek message about wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a sign outside a church near Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection count climbs back up to 656

20 more people in hospital, active cases still rising

The Walking Curriculum gets students outside and connecting with nature. (Amanda Peterson/Special to S.F. Examiner)
‘Walking Curriculum’ crafted by SFU professor surges in popularity

The outdoor curriculum encourages students to connect with the natural world

Interior Health said its new toll-free line will help people connect to health-care services. (File)
Interior Health expands toll-free line to improve access to community care

By calling1-800-707-8550, people can be connected to several health-care services

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C. researchers launch study to test kids, young adults for COVID-19 antibodies

Kids and youth can often be asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus

A sign is seen this past summer outside the Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
B.C. First Nation leaders await privacy commissioner decision on COVID-19 information

Release of life-saving data cannot wait, says coalition of First Nations

MLA Jennifer Whiteside is B.C.’s new minister of education. She is speaking out against Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld and asking him to resign. (Black Press)
New education minister calls on Chilliwack trustee to resign

Whiteside echoes former minister’s promise to look at options to remove Barry Neufeld

Tabor Home in Abbotsford. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
B.C.’s largest COVID-19 care-home outbreak records 19 deaths, 147 cases

Tabor Home in Abbotsford has been battling outbreak since Nov. 4

Most Read