Dutch scientists have begun an experiment at 22 teaching hospitals nationwide into the impact of the tuberculosis vaccine on vulnerable elderly people, to establish if it offers protection against coronavirus.
The trials, which will involve up to 7,000 people, follow the publication of research in scientific journal Cell which focused on 198 elderly Greeks, who were given either the BCG vaccine or a placebo on their discharge from hospital a couple of years ago.
A year later, in the placebo group, 42.3% of the elderly developed an infection, while this was the case in only 25% of the BCG group. The BCG-vaccinated participants had their first infection on average 16 weeks after vaccination, compared to 11 weeks for the placebo group, Radboud University Medical Centre, which was involved in the research, said.
If the BCG does offer protection against coronavirus, it could be a useful aid ahead of a specific vaccine for Covid-19, said Marc Bonten, who is coordinating the new Dutch research at the University of Utrecht.
‘In the past few months there has been an increase in indications that the BCG vaccine can offer protection against respiratory infections,’ he said. ‘This study aims to find the definitive answer when it comes to the vulnerable elderly. The importance of this research is shown in the fact that 22 hospitals have agreed to work together on it.’
Bonten hopes the first results will be available by early January.
This is the fourth study involving the tuberculosis vaccine to take place in the Netherlands.
In March work started on a placebo controlled study involving 1,500 healthcare workers. In April, similar research started involving 1,600 relatively healthy people over the age of 60. And in July, the Dutch part of an international research project into the protection offered by the BCG vaccine started.
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