BCG Vaccination of Health Care Workers Does Not Reduce SARS-CoV-2 Infections nor Infection Severity or Duration: a Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial

BCG-Corona Study Group

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Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccination has been hypothesized to reduce severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection, severity, and/or duration via trained immunity induction. Health care workers (HCWs) in nine Dutch hospitals were randomized to BCG or placebo vaccination (1:1) in March and April 2020 and followed for 1 year. They reported daily symptoms, SARS-CoV-2 test results, and health care-seeking behavior via a smartphone application, and they donated blood for SARS-CoV-2 serology at two time points. A total of 1,511 HCWs were randomized and 1,309 analyzed (665 BCG and 644 placebo). Of the 298 infections detected during the trial, 74 were detected by serology only. The SARS-CoV-2 incidence rates were 0.25 and 0.26 per person-year in the BCG and placebo groups, respectively (incidence rate ratio, 0.95; 95% confidence interval, 0.76 to 1.21; P = 0.732). Only three participants required hospitalization for SARS-CoV-2. The proportions of participants with asymptomatic, mild, or moderate infections and the mean infection durations did not differ between randomization groups. In addition, unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression and Cox proportional hazards models showed no differences between BCG and placebo vaccination for any of these outcomes. The percentage of participants with seroconversion (7.8% versus 2.8%; P = 0.006) and mean SARS-CoV-2 anti-S1 antibody concentration (13.1 versus 4.3 IU/mL; P = 0.023) were higher in the BCG than placebo group at 3 months but not at 6 or 12 months postvaccination. BCG vaccination of HCWs did not reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections nor infection duration or severity (ranging from asymptomatic to moderate). In the first 3 months after vaccination, BCG vaccination may enhance SARS-CoV-2 antibody production during SARS-CoV-2 infection. IMPORTANCE While several BCG trials in adults were conducted during the 2019 coronavirus disease epidemic, our data set is the most comprehensive to date, because we included serologically confirmed infections in addition to self-reported positive SARS-CoV-2 test results. We also collected data on symptoms for every day during the 1-year follow-up period, which enabled us to characterize infections in detail. We found that BCG vaccination did not reduce SARS-CoV-2 infections nor infection duration or severity but may have enhanced SARS-CoV-2 antibody production during SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first 3 months after vaccination. These results are in agreement with other BCG trials that reported negative results (but did not use serological endpoints), except for two trials in Greece and India that reported positive results but had few endpoints and included endpoints that were not laboratory confirmed. The enhanced antibody production is in agreement with prior mechanistic studies but did not translate into protection from SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e0035623
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes

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