Coronavirus death rates are almost six times lower in countries with a widespread vaccination programme involving the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) jab, a new study has found.
The BCG vaccine gives immunity to tuberculosis, but mass vaccination was dropped in the UK in 2005 when rates of the lung infection dropped.
Yet US-based experts now think the vaccine could improve immune systems and protect people from infection.
New research, which is yet to be peer reviewed, suggests that countries with widespread BCG vaccination programmes have much lower rates of the coronavirus than nations without.
Looking at the mortality per one million residents of each country with sufficient data, the researchers made an estimate on the coronavirus fatality rate from the top 50 countries reporting highest case events.
Researchers factored in a nation’s economic status as well as its elderly population, factors which could distort the overall picture of death rates.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health experts said in their paper: “The intriguing observation of a significant association between BCG use and lower Covid-19-attributable mortality remained discernable.
“While mortality attributable to Covid-19 has devastated global health systems and economies, striking regional differences have been observed.
“Covid-19-attributable mortality among BCG-using countries was 5.8 times lower than in non BCG-using countries.”
The paper was published on the online archive MedRxiv rather than an academic journal as it has not yet been peer-reviewed by other academics.
The research comes as others around the world launch trials investigating the possible benefits of BCG vaccination amid the coronavirus pandemic.
One team in Australia is trialing whether the vaccination will protect against Covid-19 or reduce severity or Covid-19 in healthcare workers.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne fast-tracking human studies in order to find a quick solution to protect those on the frontline of the pandemic.
It is hoped that the vaccine will boost the immune systems of health workers, who are currently only protected by PPE.
Researchers from the institute said: “The Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine is designed to protect against tuberculosis.
“However it also boosts immunity to protect against other infections.
“The purpose of the BRACE trial is to find out whether BCG vaccination protects against Covid-19 or reduces severity or Covid-19 in Australian healthcare workers.”
It is thought around 4,000 healthcare workers will participate in the six-month trial.