Texas A&M Health Science Center - Bryan Campus

First responders ages 18-75 are eligible to participate in a vaccine trial hosted by A&M.

With the ongoing pandemic, Texas A&M researchers are looking into a potential vaccine that may help with COVID-19.

In addition to the medical professionals that have participated in the BCG vaccine study, more first responders such as firefighters and police officers can now see if they are eligible for the study.

The BCG vaccine was originally used for tuberculosis and developed in the 1920s, but researchers feel this vaccine could be used for patients with COVID-19. Jeffrey Cirillo, Director of A&M’s Center for Airborne Pathogen Research and Tuberculosis Imaging, said this vaccine has the potential to be used almost immediately because it’s already FDA approved.

Researchers are using first responders because of their interactions with patients that may have COVID-19. In the first round of data collected, the researchers realized they may need to branch out to others for a more accurate trial.

“We started out focused on health care workers because health care workers are on the front lines and they were the highest frequency of infection, they were the most at risk,” Cirillo said. “We realized during the early on during the trial that first responders were just as likely or even more likely to come in contact with those with COVID-19.”

Cirillo said this has been an ongoing research trial and many in the medical field have already begun to participate in the study. After hearing about the trial through an A&M email, Neal Spears MD and director of the pediatric clerkship for TAMU Medical School-BCS campus, signed up through the link sent to him that day.

“I think it is a very interesting hypothesis,” Spears said. “I am at risk of exposure and BCG is an old and pretty safe vaccine so I felt like there was very little risk and great potential benefit.”

Spears works for CHI-St. Joseph with out-patient pediatrics, although he has not worked with COVID-19 patients until after they have been cleared from having the virus. He said the patients he has seen with COVID-19 have had very mild symptoms.

“It is important to have a safe and effective vaccine so we can return to pre-COVID unrestricted life,” Spears said. “The restrictions have been horrible for the mental health of my population, and most of my patients had huge increases in BMI due to being at home and bored and snacking all day.”

Cirillo said the trial is a one-time vaccine of either the treatment or a placebo, and then the collection of blood samples to track the efficiency and collect data for the researchers. Participants also have weekly symptom checks via online surveys.

Although the data is not yet ready, researchers want to use the results to see if the BCG vaccine will help to be preventative or lessen the effects of the COVID-19 virus.

“People always ask what a specific vaccine comes along, and makes this unimportant and the fact is that’s not true, this vaccine has been shown along with every other vaccine used against viruses, if you get this vaccine first and then you have a subsequent vaccine, like a flu vaccine, the vaccine works better,” Cirillo said. “That’s one thing that this vaccine has the ability to do is target your response so if you get another vaccine afterwards then you should have a better response and it should protect you better.”

Researchers are looking for additional enrollments that fit the criteria of the study. They are still able to accept around 500 more individuals to participate. Medical professionals or first responders can visit their website for more information.

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