Researchers in Canada are hoping a vaccine that has been designed to treat tuberculosis for centuries could be the key to fighting COVID-19 infection.
The University Health Network in Toronto announced on Monday that it had begun testing Canada’s first Bacillus Calmette – Guerin (BCG) vaccine on more than 3,600 frontline employees in the region, this includes medical personnel, ambulance workers, police officers and firefighters.
Dr. Alexandre Zlotta, a researcher at the agency, told CTV News: “We feel that these frontline workers are clearly the people we would try to protect if exposure levels were increased. increase”.
“Of course, we hope that those who get vaccinated will become less infected… (and) protect themselves, and ultimately protect their loved ones.”
The BCG vaccine was first developed in 1921 and is often used as a vaccine against tuberculosis in countries with high rates of infection, but doctors recently found that many countries have rates of vaccination. High BCG strains showed lower rates of COVID-19.
“Many studies that have been done in the past show that vaccinated people are more resistant to viral infections,” Zlotta said. “What has happened is that people have realized that people who get the TB vaccine have their immune systems strengthened to the point of being able to resist completely unrelated infections.”
The vaccine being used for this study is a genetically modified version of the original BCG vaccine produced in Germany. Participants will receive either a vaccine or a placebo and will be followed for the next seven months during the second batch of COVID-19 in Canada.
Sean O’Connell, who has been a Toronto firefighter for the past 18 years, was one of the first to be injected over the weekend.
“If this vaccine works, it will allow me and hope others to believe that by taking this vaccine it may not cure the disease, but it will certainly reduce its impact on people and their lives, ”he said.
There are at least a dozen similar trials around the world, including in Australia, Europe and Mexico.
A Greek study found that the BCG vaccine provided an 80% reduction in severe viral respiratory infections in the year following the injection. However, the study was completed before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Madhukar Pai, director of the McGill International Tuberculosis Center at McGill University, believes that one of the key questions to be answered is whether the BCG vaccine has a nonspecific effect on coronavirus, right away. even if it wasn’t 100% successful.
“In a sense, we know it’s safe because millions of people have been vaccinated,” he said. “Even with 50% protection, it’s like a mask, you add it to our list of things we’re all trying to do.”
There are many reasons for hope. It can be deployed widely in a timely manner because it’s cheap and already in use around the world, the researchers say.
“We should all be skeptical because we know (COVID-19 is) a graveyard of drugs and vaccines,” said Pai.
“We started with hydroxychloroquine, now we know it doesn’t work. “We tried an HIV antiviral that didn’t work and every time we thought something worked, it taught us a really humble lesson.”
Results from international studies are expected by the end of 2020, but research by the University Medical Network is expected to be published until spring 2021.
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