COVID-19 Digest: Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Vaccine for Treating COVID-19 - The Emergency Medical Minute

COVID-19 Digest: Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Vaccine for Treating COVID-19

Host: Elizabeth Esty, MD

In the US, few people receive vaccination for tuberculosis (TB), a disease that hasn’t been a major killer here for many decades.  But while we in the US mostly experience TB as a relatively rare but real threat in its multidrug resistant form, particularly in patients with HIV–or in Victorian novels–TB still kills 2 million people a year. There is a vaccine for TB, a live attenuated vaccine called BCG for Bacille Calmette-Guérin. In fact it’s the most widely used vaccine on earth, and an estimated 4 billion people have received it since was first administered to a baby whose mother died of TB a few hours after giving birth in the summer of 1921. 

This connection of this vaccine to COVID caught our attention when a friend suggested a few weeks ago that Russia and other parts of the world where BCG vaccination is routine might be shielded from the worst COVID outbreaks. In the intervening weeks, as Russia grapples with its own COVID epidemic, that possibility seems less tenable, but it did lead us down an interesting research path.

Research By: Elizabeth Esty, MD

Sound Editing By: Nate Novotny


  1. Miller A, Reandelar MJ, Fasciglione K, Roumenova V, Li Y, Otazu GH. Correlation between Universal BCG Vaccination Policy and Reduced Morbidity and Mortality for COVID-19: An Epidemiological Study. Epidemiology; 2020. doi:10.1101/2020.03.24.20042937
  2. Kleinnijenhuis J, Quintin J, Preijers F, et al. Bacille Calmette-Guerin induces NOD2-dependent nonspecific protection from reinfection via epigenetic reprogramming of monocytes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2012;109(43):17537-17542. doi:10.1073/pnas.1202870109
  3. Arts RJW, Moorlag SJCFM, Novakovic B, et al. BCG Vaccination Protects against Experimental Viral Infection in Humans through the Induction of Cytokines Associated with Trained Immunity. Cell Host & Microbe. 2018;23(1):89-100.e5. doi:10.1016/j.chom.2017.12.010

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