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New trial tests the effectiveness of BCG vaccine against COVID-19

A largescale global trial designed to test the theory that the widely-used BCG vaccine could help protect against COVID-19 will soon recruit healthcare staff and care home workers in the UK.

The University of Exeter is leading the UK arm of the trial, called the ‘BCG vaccination to Reduce the impact of COVID-19 in healthcare workers’ (BRACE) Trial.

The BRACE trial is coordinated by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in Melbourne, Australia. The trial has received more than $10M from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to allow its global expansion. The Peter Sowerby Foundation has contributed funding to support the Exeter trial site.

The UK joins study centres in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and Brazil in the largest trial of its kind. Together, the trial will recruit more than 10,000 healthcare staff. Participants will be given either the BCG vaccine (currently given to more than 100 million babies worldwide each year to protect against tuberculosis (TB)) or a placebo injection. In the UK, routine BCG vaccination was stopped in 2005 because of the low rates of TB in the general population.

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, is the UK lead on the BRACE study.

He said: “COVID-19 has killed more than a million people globally, with well over 33 million people acquiring the disease, sometimes in its severest forms. BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against COVID-19. We’re excited to be contributing to the large-scale, international BRACE study where we are seeking to establish whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of COVID-19. If it does, we could save lives by administering or topping up this readily available and cost-effective vaccination.”

Previous studies suggest that the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine could reduce susceptibility to a range of infections caused by viruses including those similar to the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19. Examining the mechanism by which this may work is part of the trial being conducted by BRACE researchers.

The BCG vaccine boosts immunity by ‘training’ the immune system to respond to other subsequent infections with greater intensity.

Researchers hope this improved ‘innate immunity’ will buy crucial time to develop an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19.

The BRACE trial is initially…

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