Vaccine to prevent tuberculosis may help limit spread of COVID-19

The Rolla Daily News

The Missouri S&T researchers analyzed COVID-19-related death and incidence rates among nations that require the BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guerin) vaccine. They found that the virus had less impact in those nations than in countries where the vaccine is not mandatory. The United States and many European nations do not require the BCG vaccine, but the researchers suggest that public health policy makers in the U.S. and similar nations consider pursuing clinical trials of the BCG vaccine to gauge its potential as a remedy for the current COVID-19 spread.

“Use of a viable vaccine may help eliminate or reduce the potential danger associated with COVID-19 by greatly reducing or eliminating personal exposure of others to the hazard” of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, says Dr. Robert J. Marley, the Robert B. Koplar Professor of Engineering Management at Missouri S&T. He and Dr. Abhijit Gosavi, associate professor of engineering management, conducted the study, titled “Public Policy in a Pandemic: A Hazard-Control Perspective and a Case Study of the BCG Vaccine for COVID-19.” The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the IEEE journal Engineering Management Review.

“If viable, vaccination can render moot all other secondary, less effective, path control strategies, such as face masks, social distancing and quarantining,” says Gosavi. “Public policy decision makers must weigh all of these options.”

The BCG vaccine was first used about 100 years ago, when tuberculosis posed a major threat to public health. Today, several developing or lower-income nations require the vaccine to be given at birth or during childhood. Besides its proven success to prevent TB, the vaccine may also protect against other respiratory infections. A 2018 study, for example, found that the vaccine appeared to boost immunity against a viral infection.

In their research, Gosavi and Marley found a strong association between lower-income countries that require BCG vaccinations for children and lower impact of COVID-19. They analyzed data from 36 countries – 21 that require the vaccine and 15 that do not – to draw “a statistical link between the BCG vaccine, mandatory in lower-income nations, and lower spread and fatality indexes.”

 Gosavi and Marley cite a comparison between Spain and Portugal. The two southern European nations share a contiguous border on the Iberian Peninsula. “The BCG vaccine is mandatory in Portugal but not in Spain,” Gosavi says, “and death rates are higher in Spain.”

The researchers caution that their work does not prove that the vaccine may be effective at building “herd immunity” against COVID-19, “but it indicates that phased clinical (medical) trials may help determine its efficacy.”