BCG Vaccine, Commonly Used For Tuberculosis, May Ease COVID-19 Symptoms

NIJMEGEN, Netherlands — As nations race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, a treatment for tuberculosis may provide a vital stopgap for millions. A new study finds the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine not only stimulates the immune system, but vaccinated patients are also seeing fewer symptoms of the coronavirus.

A team from Radboud University Medical Center says it has actually been testing BCG since 2017. At the time, researchers were seeing how the vaccine affects the human immune system. Now that COVID-19 is sweeping the globe, they’re finding study participants are staying healthier during the pandemic.

The study reports participants in the Netherlands who received the BCG vaccine are not getting sick more often or becoming seriously ill during the country’s COVID-19 outbreak. Researchers add there was a lower number of sick people between March and May 2020 among BCG-vaccinated patients. Those subjects are also reporting fewer cases of extreme fatigue.

What is BCG?

Bacille Calmette-Guerin is the most widely administered vaccination in the world. Originally created to fight tuberculosis, study authors say the drug was found to also provide a long-term boost to immune health.

The vaccine is now considered an effective treatment against other conditions.

Due to BCG’s reputation for providing “trained immunity,” the Radboud team isn’t surprised vaccinated people are seeing better health in 2020.

Can it beat COVID-19 or is this just coincidence?

The study cautions that the results don’t prove the BCG vaccine can fully protect the public from coronavirus. Researchers say more studies need to be done on how BCG interacts with COVID-19.

“It is very important to confirm that someone who has been vaccinated with BCG does not experience any increased symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Professor Mihai Netea in a media release.

“Although we see less sickness in the people who have had the BCG vaccination, only the ongoing prospective BCG vaccination studies can determine whether this vaccination can help against COVID-19.”

The study appears in Cell Reports Medicine.

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