An Old Vaccine Against Tuberculosis May Offer Resistance to the Coronavirus


Researchers Mihai Netea and Marc Bonten asked two weeks ago whether the medical ethics committees of the Radboud university medical center and the UMC Utrecht would approve an application for vaccination of health personnel with a tuberculosis vaccine. It normally takes months. But now that the coronavirus is circulating in the Netherlands, they got the green light on Monday.

This is therefore not just an idea. It aims to reduce a disease that is strangling the world and for which there is no cure yet.

It’s about a vaccine against tuberculosis, the BCG vaccine, which has been around for about a hundred years. Since it has already been administered to many millions of people worldwide, it is certain that it will not cause unexpected, serious side effects. In the Netherlands, children no longer receive this vaccine because tuberculosis hardly occurs anymore, but in many other countries, it is standard in the package.

That’s the fact that a vaccine that provides approximately 60 percent protection against tuberculosis may help against the coronavirus. The vaccine contains the live bacteria Mycobacterium Bovis, the innocent brother of tuberculosis bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

After injection under the skin, these bacteria remain present for several months, where it activates the part of the immune system. As a result, this takes action against all pathogens, as a result of which various studies show that resistance is increasing against the flu virus and the malaria parasite, among others.

That is why experimental internist Mihai Netea of Radboud university medical center, who has been studying this effect of the tuberculosis vaccine for years, joined forces in January with Marc Bonten, who investigates infectious diseases at UMC Utrecht.

They are rapidly setting up a study to find out whether this vaccine can help fight the coronavirus. “Inoculating doctors and nurses with it can potentially prevent them from falling out due to illness. That is crucial in addressing the outbreak, ”says Netea.

Unexpected Effects
Netea accidentally discovered the unexpected effects of the tuberculosis vaccine in 2010. A researcher in his lab studied the effect of the vaccine on the defense against tuberculosis in blood samples. As a check, she exposed half of the dishes to TB, but to a fungus, assuming nothing would happen.

What turned out? The tuberculosis vaccine also increased the immune system against this fungus. The researchers first thought of an error, but the effect was repeated repeatedly. The Nijmegen residents were not the first to notice this effect, they soon discovered it, and decided to study the phenomenon further.

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