London: As part of a large-scale global trial, scientists in Britain have launched a study to test if the widely-used Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine could help protect people against Covid-19.
Developed almost a century ago, BCG vaccine was originally designed to fight tuberculosis (TB). It has also been reported to offer broad protection to respiratory infections.
The new global trial will test the theory that the BCG vaccine could help protect against Covid-19 too.
The University of Exeter on Sunday said that it is leading the UK arm of the trial, called the aBCG 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 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) or a placebo injection.
In the UK, routine BCG vaccination was stopped in 2005 because of low rates of TB in the general population.
In the UK, the trial is initially seeking to recruit 1,000 participants who work in care homes and other community healthcare settings.
"BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against Covid-19," Professor John Campbell of the University of Exeter Medical School who is the UK lead on the BRACE study said in a statement.
"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 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.