19 March 2020

Radboudumc and UMC Utrecht will investigate whether health care workers are better protected against the coronavirus after a vaccination against tuberculosis (BCG vaccine). This vaccine does not directly protect against the coronavirus, but provides a boost to the immune system, which may lead to improved protection against the coronavirus and a milder infection.
 
The coronavirus (COVID-19) infects more and more people. This also applies to hospital staff, which can cause capacity problems in the healthcare system. There is currently no vaccine against the virus and it takes time before a vaccine will become available. In the United States, for example, an investigation into an mRNA vaccine has just started and an investigation into a DNA vaccine will follow soon, but even with good results it will take time before such a vaccine is available.
 
Not directed against corona
Radboudumc and UMC Utrecht are now investigating whether hospital staff can be protected by a vaccine against tuberculosis. This BCG vaccine (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) does not directly target the coronavirus, but it boosts the immune system. This boost may provide additional protection against a coronavirus infection, which may result in fewer people to suffer from the virus and also make the infection milder.
 
More protection, less downtime?
Previous research shows that such a boost of the immune system with BCG provides some protection against influenza, but it is not known whether this also applies to other infections such as corona. "That is exactly the reason for this research," says Mihai Netea, professor of experimental internal medicine. "If during this epidemic fewer people in the BCG-vaccinated group would drop out due to illness, this would be an encouraging result."
 
Thousand employees
Marc Bonten, professor of molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases at the UMC Utrecht, has initiated this research together with Netea. The study has now been approved by the Medical Ethics Review Committee (METC). "We are in the middle of the outbreak, so we want to have the results of this study as soon as possible," says Bonten. “A total of 1000 employees can participate at Radboudumc, UMC Utrecht, but also in other hospitals. Half of them will receive the BCG vaccine, the other half a placebo. If it turns out that the vaccine does indeed provide extra protection, we can also offer it to other employees.”
 
 

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