1. Could BCG revaccination in adults reduce the risk of COVID-19 disease or its severity, especially among those at highest risk?
2. Could it also reduce the risk of tuberculosis (TB) disease, the leading cause of death in South Africa?
Limited emerging evidence suggests that yes, maybe BCG could offer additional protection on both counts. The level of protection might be modest on a personal level, but if applied to exponential contagion the value could be amplified in the same way.
We need your help, please:
COVID-19 and TB affect all of us deeply, and we need a “Whole of Society” approach to fight back. You and/or your organisation can support the BCG-CORONA trial in health workers by donating money:
1. Directly to the COVID-19 Research Fund:
The Lung Institute Trust, Standard Bank, Account 282 577 637
Using the reference: BCG-CORONA Trial. No administration fee will be charged by the Trust.
2. Alternatively, you can make an online donation via this GivenGain page.
Donations via this portal will be transferred to the same UCT Lung Institute Trust bank account, but are subject to a small administration fee.
You can also help by sharing this call for support widely.
If we protect our health workers, they can protect us
Health workers have rightfully been hailed as heroes across the globe, because they have been at the front line in the biological war against the most aggressively contagious pandemic in modern times. Unfortunately, they have also been in the front line regarding casualties, with precious few options to protect themselves, other than the careful use of rapidly dwindling Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Health workers are also at a three times increased risk of TB and six times increased risk of drug-resistant TB. TB remains the leading cause of death among South Africans.
BCG revaccination is safe in healthy people and readily available, and any protection afforded to health workers could benefit individuals and strengthen health systems (due to reduced loss of work days and even life) and may also reduce risk to their patients (due to a reduction in transmission from infected health workers). If BCG vaccination does not have a protective effect, this is also very important to know fast. It would be a disaster to inappropriately divert limited resources during this pandemic to interventions that are not effective, and could further deplete precious BCG supplies away from proven use to prevent disseminated and severe TB in South African infants.
BCG-CORONA Trial Consortium: TASK, Stellenbosch University (SU), University of Cape Town Lung Institute (UCTLI) and Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research (CIDER), Western Cape Government: Health (WCGH), City of Cape Town (CoCT), Mediclinic Southern Africa & TB Proof with digital health support from Mobenzi.
Way forward: A consortium of world leading Pulmonology, TB and Immunology clinicians, scientists, public health professionals and civil society members have mobilised to start a randomised controlled trial (RCT) among South African health workers, drawing on volunteer time and the goodwill of a committed team of clinical trial researchers. Efforts are ongoing to raise funding, but given the extreme urgency we managed to secure ethics and SAHPRA (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) approval in record time and started enrolling health workers on May the 4th at Tygerberg Academic Hospital (attached images).
As a minimum we will enrol 500 health workers from the state service, randomising them to BCG or placebo, and follow them up at pre-defined time points for at least a year. The study is adaptive in nature and subject to frequent review – if value is clearly identified, randomisation will end and all control participants (i.e. those who only received placebo) will also receive BCG revaccination. A leading software development company, Mobenzi, has also offered its services free of charge in the interim, allowing for real-time digital data capture by researchers and participants.
Emergency BCG trials in BCG naïve populations (i.e. never received BCG in childhood) in the Netherlands, Australia and the USA have also started, with more trials in advanced planning stages. To our knowledge this is the first trial to start in Africa and the first trial in the world to examine the potential benefits of revaccination against both COVID-19 and TB. Ideally we need funding to enrol at least four times as many health workers, since that will allow us to get results faster and of a higher quality. To achieve this ambitious target we need your help, please?
We are fully aware that many people are facing financial hardship in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty, but would greatly appreciate any support, however modest. We hope such contributions will be seen as an investment, not only in our health workers, but every South African who could benefit from the findings of this novel research. There are no guarantees of any success, but we can assure you of the quality of truly world class research and our shared commitment towards a better and safer life for all.
For more information please contact:
1. Donations - UCTLI: Cheryl Nel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
2. Trial Team - TASK: Caryn Upton (email@example.com)
3. Civil Society & Advocacy - TB Proof: Dalene von Delft (firstname.lastname@example.org)
On behalf of the BCG-CORONA Trial Consortium.
Selected media coverage: (reverse chronological order)
8 May 2020: Could a tuberculosis vaccine guard against the COVID-19? Deutsche Welle
Watch: An exclusive look at South Africa’s COVID-19 BCG vaccine trial. The South African
5 May 2020: BCG vaccine tested in fight against COVID-19. eNCA
4 May 2020: South Africa starts coronavirus trial of TB vaccine. Health 24
South Africa begins Covid-19 BCG vaccine trial. Business Tech
25 April 2020: Cape Town trial begins next week - can BCG shot prevent Covid-19 infection? Cape Argus