Older age is associated with increased severity and death from respiratory infections, including coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). The tuberculosis vaccine Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) may provide heterologous protection against non-tuberculous infections, and has been proposed as a potential preventive strategy against Covid-19.
In this multicenter, placebo-controlled trial, we randomly assigned elderly individuals (60 years or older, n=2014) to intracutaneous vaccination with BCG (n=1008) or placebo (n=1006). The primary endpoint was the cumulative incidence of respiratory tract infections that required medical intervention, during 12 months of follow-up. Secondary endpoints included the incidence of Covid-19, and the effect of BCG vaccination on the cellular and humoral immune responses.
The cumulative incidence of respiratory tract infection requiring medical intervention was 0.029 in the BCG-vaccinated group and 0.024 in the control group (subdistribution hazard ratio [SHR], 1.26; 98.2% confidence interval [CI], 0.65 to 2.44). 51 and 48 individuals tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 by PCR in the BCG and placebo group, respectively (SHR, 1.053; 95% CI, 0.71 to 1.56). No difference was observed in the frequency of adverse events. BCG vaccination was associated with enhanced cytokines responses after influenza, and partially also after SARS-CoV-2 stimulation. In patients diagnosed with Covid-19, antibody responses after infection were significantly stronger if the volunteers had previously received BCG.
BCG-vaccination had no effect on the incidence of respiratory tract infections, including SARS-CoV-2 infection, in elderly volunteers. However, BCG vaccination improved cytokine responses stimulated by influenza and SARS-CoV-2, and induced stronger antibody titers after Covid-19 infection.

© The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.