An old tuberculosis vaccine may offer answers to combatting coronavirus

Two weeks ago, researchers Mihai Netea and Marc Bonten made a request to the medical ethics committees of Radboud University medical centre and the UMC Utrecht to research a tuberculosis (TB) vaccine that could be used against coronavirus. They received permission this Monday, according to de Volkskrant

Normally this procedure would take months. However, given the urgency of the novel coronavirus, the process was accelerated.

The BCG vaccine has been around for nearly a century. Thus it will likely not result in serious side effects. In the Netherlands, TB is virtually nonexistent- but around the world it is administered to millions of people.

The vaccine contains the bacteria Mycobacterium bovis, bacteria that causes TB in cattle and is related to the tuberculosis bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Once injected, the bacteria remains in your body for several months, allowing the immune system to develop resistance. De Volkskrant reports that studies have shown that humans have consequently become increasingly resistant to flu and to malaria among other infections. This is because the vaccine actually activates 99% of your general immune system, making it more prepared to fight off most disease. In a study done in Guinea-Bissau, participants vaccinated with the TB vaccine saw a 30 to 70% reduction in other forms of infection.

But as of yet, there is no evidence that this protection will apply to coronavirus: in fact, there is a possibility that this vaccine could make people more vulnerable to COVID-19. Hergen Spits, an immunologist at the Amsterdam UMC, warns that “there are indications that with the lung disease SARS, overactive immune cells are responsible for pneumonia, because a storm is created of certain signaling substances, cytokines.” But, again, there is no clear evidence yet either way, when it comes to how this TBC vaccine could affect one’s susceptibility to coronavirus.

In these critical times, when we don’t yet have a vaccine against coronavirus, a lead like this is well worth pursuing. Accordingly, Netea and Bonten have teamed up to investigate whether it could also be used to combat the coronavirus. Their emphasis is particularly on how this vaccine could help healthcare professionals resist coronavirus, as they are most likely to be in close contact with it.

Next week, participants will be recruited to participate in the experiment. From there it will be analysed whether the vaccine has a major effect in combatting COVID-19.

Here’s hoping.

Feature Image: DutchReview/Canva

Vedika Luthra
Vedika was born in India, raised in Poland and moved to the Netherlands to study. Like her nationality, she’s confused about what she likes most, which is why her bachelor’s degree was in liberal arts and sciences. She enjoys writing about all things food-related but likes to mix it up every now and then.


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