Roni Caryn Rabin in The New York Times:
A vaccine that was developed a hundred years ago to fight the tuberculosis scourge in Europe is now being tested against the coronavirus by scientists eager to find a quick way to protect health care workers, among others. The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine is still widely used in the developing world, where scientists have found that it does more than prevent TB. The vaccine prevents infant deaths from a variety of causes, and sharply reduces the incidence of respiratory infections. The vaccine seems to “train” the immune system to recognize and respond to a variety of infections, including viruses, bacteria and parasites, experts say. There is little evidence yet that the vaccine will blunt infection with the coronavirus, but a series of clinical trials may answer the question in just months. On Monday, scientists in Melbourne, Australia, started administering the B.C.G. vaccine or a placebo to thousands of physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other health care workers — the first of several randomized controlled trials intended to test the vaccine’s effectiveness against the coronavirus.
“Nobody is saying this is a panacea,” said Nigel Curtis, an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, who planned the trial. “What we want to do is reduce the time an infected health care worker is unwell, so they recover and can come back to work faster.” A clinical trial of 1,000 health care workers began 10 days ago in the Netherlands, said Dr. Mihai G. Netea, an infectious disease specialist at Radboud University Medical Center in Nijmegen. Eight hundred health care workers have already signed up. (As in Australia, half of the participants will receive a placebo.) Dr. Denise Faustman, director of immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, is seeking funding to start a clinical trial of the vaccine in health care workers in Boston as well. Preliminary results could be available in as little as four months.
“We have really strong data from clinical trials with humans — not mice — that this vaccine protects you from viral and parasitic infections,” said Dr. Faustman. “I’d like to start today.”