Australia rolls out COVID-19 vaccine trial for healthcare workers

Australia will roll out a randomized clinical trial of a vaccine aimed at protecting healthcare workers from the COVID-19 coronavirus, Melbourne researchers announced on Wednesday.

Professor Kathryn North AC, Director of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, announced its infectious disease researchers are preparing to roll-out a multi-centre randomised controlled clinical trial of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19.

Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom, who has called for global support and assistance in the fight against COVID-19, has endorsed the trial.
“Australian medical researchers have a reputation for conducting rigorous, innovative trials,” Professor North said. “This trial will allow the vaccine’s effectiveness against COVID-19 symptoms to be properly tested, and may help save the lives of our heroic frontline healthcare workers.”

The BRACE trial Led by Professor Nigel Curtis, a clinician-scientist who leads MCRI’s Infectious Diseases Research Group, builds on previous studies which showed that BCG reduces the level of virus when people are infected with similar viruses to SARS-CoV-2.

“We hope to see a reduction in the prevalence and severity of COVID-19 symptoms in healthcare workers receiving the BCG vaccination,” Professor Curtis said “We aim to enroll 4000 healthcare workers from hospitals around Australia, including the Melbourne Campus’ Royal Children’s Hospital to allow us to accurately say whether it can lessen the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. And we need to enrol them in the coming weeks, so the clock is definitely ticking.”

Originally developed against tuberculosis, and still given to over 130 million babies annually for that purpose, BCG boosts humans’ ‘frontline’ immunity, training it to respond to germs with greater intensity.

The researchers hope this improved ‘innate’ immunity will provide crucial time to develop and importantly, validate, a specific anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

There are currently no vaccines or other proven preventative therapeutic interventions available to protect health care workers at the frontline exposed to the COVID19 virus.
The proposed trial is based on an existing MCRI trial, which has allowed rapid but thorough human ethics approvals, and involves sites across Australia. The first sites to be announced are The Royal Children’s Hospital and Monash Medical Centre. More sites are expected to be announced in coming days.

“The Federal and State Health Departments, together with Australian and international philanthropists, have shown a willingness and capacity to step up to fund a number of COVID-19 related trials,” Professor North said. “Using rapidly sourced and immediately deployable funds, we will be relentless in our pursuit of preventions and treatments for this unprecedented pandemic. These trials will allow the rapid advancement of the most promising candidates to clinical practice, giving us the most number of shots on goal against COVID-19 as possible.”

Australia has reported 4,245 COVID-19 cases as of March 30, 2020, 19:00 GMT, with 18 fatalities.

There are 770,165 confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus globally, with an official death toll of 36,938.

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