Coronavirus: South Africa begins trials of tuberculosis vaccine


South African researchers in Cape Town kicked off a clinical study on Monday to test the protective effects of a century-old tuberculosis vaccine on the coronavirus.

A clinical study involves research using human volunteers (also called participants) that is intended to add to medical knowledge.

There are two main types of clinical studies: clinical trials and observational studies.

Although used as a vaccine against tuberculosis in children, Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) also protects against other respiratory tract infections in children and adults, the Task organisation said in a statement.

One of its lead researchers, Dr Caryn Upton, told dpa that they hoped to collect comparable data with other BCG trials – such as those in the Netherlands and Australia – so that recommendations can be made for, or against, its use in the coronavirus pandemic.

“Importantly we are looking at something different from those two trials,” she said, explaining that unlike Australia and the Netherlands, South Africa has a universal BCG vaccination policy.

This means that most South Africans would have been vaccinated at birth, so this trial will be looking at re-vaccination.

BCG will be administered to a group of about 500 health-care workers to determine “whether (re)vaccination reduces the probability of infection … and/or the severity of symptoms of COVID-19 disease” in front-line workers who come into direct contact with infected patients.

According to Task, a social enterprise which researches and develops novel medicines, it will regularly run statistical tests to see if an advantage of BCG re-vaccination can be shown.

“If there is a robust enough positive signal the results will be made public,” they said.