BCG injection given to all students between the ages of 10 and 14 can protect against coronavirus … so why was it removed?
- The BCG shot was given to every 10-14 year old between 1953 and 2005
- But it was then switched to those most at risk of infection from targeted diseases
- Researchers are testing whether the lamprey can protect against coronavirus
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
A vaccine once given annually to thousands of British schoolchildren could reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus.
Between 1953 and 2005, the BCG injection – developed a century ago – was injected into every ten to fourteen-year-old student in the UK to protect them from tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial lung infection. When the number of TB infections declined, doctors stopped massive vaccination and switched to those most at risk in 2005, such as babies or children living with infected family members.
But now researchers in four countries are about to launch tests to see if the BCG shot can protect millions from the highly contagious Covid-19.
The BCG shot, which used to go to every child aged 10 to 14, was lowered in 2005
If these studies are successful, it could mean that the vaccine – which costs just £ 30 per dose – will be an inexpensive and readily available method of preventing infection.
Researchers hope it will turbo-charge the immune system so that it is in an increased state of readiness and can detect and destroy the virus before it destroys the body.
In the frantic search for a vaccine to prevent Covid-19, scientists are mainly focusing on highly targeted drugs – for example, some experimental injections are made with small fragments of the genetic material of the virus.
The idea is that the immune system detects this material and releases infection-fighting cells called antibodies to attack it, meaning that when exposed to the real virus, the immune system is prepared and ready. This is how most vaccines work.
But it is thought that the BCG shot works differently. Rather than targeting the virus specifically, the entire immune system is activated, making it more likely that it will extinguish invading virus particles.
Several studies in recent years have shown that the BCG shot can be effective against infectious diseases other than tuberculosis.
A nurse is pictured above giving a preschool injection to a child
A study, published in The BMJ in 2016, found that babies who received the BCG were 30 percent less likely to die of an infectious disease in their first year of life than those who did not.
And for more than 40 years, the BCG vaccine has also been used by the NHS to activate the immune system to prevent bladder cancer from returning in patients who have had surgery for the disease.
The injection, which is injected into the bladder itself, prevents tumor recurrence in more than two-thirds of patients. Studies are ongoing to see if it will also stop the return of other cancers, such as the colon and lung.
Scientists think the reason why the BCG vaccine works as a general immune enhancer is because it is a ‘live’ vaccine. This means it is made with a weakened version of the organism that causes tuberculosis.
If you can’t find hand sanitizer, use perfume, says scientist Angela Stavrevska.
Many have a high alcohol content to kill insects and are fine to use until you can wash your hands
Most modern vaccines contain inactivated parts of the virus or bacteria to which they target and thus do not activate the entire immune system in the same way.
Scientists started recruiting volunteers last week to test the value of the BCG shot to combat the coronavirus at Radboud University in the Netherlands.
They plan to inject 1,000 frontline health workers with either the BCG shot or a placebo.
Researchers will then check whether the infection rates are lower in the BCG group.
Similar trials are planned at Exeter University in the UK, Athens University in Greece and Melbourne University in Australia. In theory, the injection could be available to the public within a few months if tests show that it has a strong enough effect.
Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, says the BCG vaccine may be effective because it appears to cause something called “educated immunity,” in which the entire immune system is alert.
“The level of alertness remains high for weeks or months after vaccination,” he says.
“It means you’re less likely to get infections during that time because the immune system reacts faster when it sees a foreign invader.”
WHAT I WANT I KNOW
This week: “That I would get worse after I get better.” Writer Claire Coleman, 42, lives in London and developed symptoms 13 days ago.
Normally you get sick from something and gradually get better – but not with the corona virus. I thought I was well on my way to recover after four days, only to be hit by a new wave of symptoms – it was really very depressing.
Writer Claire Coleman had symptoms of the dreaded coronavirus
The first four days I had a mild fever, cough, headache, a little sore throat, some fatigue and lost my sense of smell.
Then, on the fifth day, I was convinced I was recovering – I even managed to wipe my yard clean. But the next day I barely had the energy to sit at my desk. I crawled into bed shivering at 7:30 pm and slept for 12 hours.
Now, almost two weeks after my symptoms started, I feel less tired, but my chest feels tighter and my coughing fits are more intense. The NHS advises that people with mild symptoms usually recover within two weeks, but cautions that the cough may persist.
It is a step forward, two steps back in my recovery. So if you do get hit, be prepared: you need as much mental strength as everything else.