BCG vaccination history associates with decreased SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence across a diverse cohort of healthcare workers

J Clin Invest. 2020 Nov 19;145157. doi: 10.1172/JCI145157. Online ahead of print.


Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused over one million deaths worldwide, thus there is an urgent need to develop preventive and therapeutic strategies. The anti-tuberculosis vaccine Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) demonstrates non-specific protective innate immune-boosting effects. Here, we determined if history of BCG vaccination was associated with decreased SARS-CoV-2 infection and seroconversion in a retrospective observational study of a diverse cohort of health care workers (HCWs).

Methods: We assessed SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence and collected medical questionnaires, including BCG vaccination status and pre-existing demographic and clinical characteristics, from an observational cohort of HCWs in a multi-site Los Angeles healthcare organization. We used multi-variate analysis to estimate if history of BCG vaccination was associated with decreased rates of SARS-CoV-2 infection and seroconversion.

Results: Of the 6,201 HCWs, 29.6% reported a history of BCG vaccination whereas 68.9% did not receive BCG vaccination. Seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG as well as incidence of self-reported clinical symptoms associated with COVID-19 were significantly decreased among HCWs with a history of BCG vaccination compared to those without BCG vaccination. After adjusting for age and sex, we found that history of BCG vaccination, but not meningococcal, pneumococcal or influenza vaccination, was associated with decreased SARS-CoV-2 IgG seroconversion.

Conclusions: History of BCG vaccination was associated with decreased seroprevalence of anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG and reduced reported COVID-19-related clinical symptoms in this cohort of HCWs. Therefore, large randomized prospective clinical trials of BCG vaccination are urgently needed to confirm if BCG vaccination can induced a protective effect against SARS-CoV2 infection.

Funding: This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute (U54 CA26059) and the Erika J. Glazer Family Foundation. Key words: SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, BCG, anti-SARS-CoV-2 IgG, healthcare workers, trained immunity.

Keywords: COVID-19; Innate immunity; Vaccines.