HOUSTON – With every swab, prick, and poke, researchers could be taking the first possible step in protecting people across the globe from coronavirus. Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center lead a group of five institutions looking to repurpose a long-used vaccine in the fight against coronavirus. The group also includes MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Baylor College of Medicine.
Inside the Bryan Medical Center, the first 50 volunteers received BCG vaccinations Wednesday in a late-stage phase 4 clinical trial. Every volunteer was a frontline healthcare worker.
"Offering a treatment that protects them from the illness related to COVID-19 would be a big step forward in protecting Americans and people all over the world," said Dr. Gabriel Neal of the Texas A&M Health Science Center.
BCG is a widely-used tuberculosis vaccine — in circulation since 1940. One recent study found it was associated with a significantly slower climb in both confirmed cases and deaths from coronavirus during the first 30-day period of an outbreak.
Some of today’s recipients were given the vaccine and others a placebo. Over the next six months, they will take self-administered blood samples to determine if BCG can strengthen the immune response to COVID-19 — a process called trained immunity.
"We want to answer the question, ‘Will the BCG vaccine offer some protection to healthcare workers against COVID-19?’' Neal said. “And of course, we’re very hopeful that this could be a treatment that’s offered to healthcare workers in the future if it’s effective.”
Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health are the two institutions outside of Texas that are part of this trial. Researchers say if effective BCG could be widely available for use against COVID-19 in just six months because it’s already been proven safe for other uses.