In Australia Kaya Gardiner, Project Manager of Infectious Diseases, is working tirelessly with her team to help slow the pandemic
It was back in late January that we started hearing about coronavirus cases in Wuhan, and to be honest we weren’t too worried about it reaching Australia. At the time it seemed very similar to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which never actually made it here. But then suddenly we heard that cases were spreading around the world and that it was more infectious than we initially imagined – and we had to do something.
Here at Melbourne’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, we have a team who’ve been looking into how the BCG vaccine could help. It was initially created to prevent tuberculosis, but as it was rolled out it became apparent that it was reducing the death rate of other diseases. Could it also reduce the severity of the symptoms caused be COVID-19? We voiced our idea on March 6: to give healthcare workers (those not yet exposed to COVID-10) the BCG vaccine and see if it would boost their immunity and lead to a less severe disease.
Our aim is not to provide a cure for coronavirus, but to install a vaccine that will help shift the curve to the left, meaning that people who were going to end up in the ICU will end up in wards, and the people who need the wards will end up staying home. For us, this trial is not just a short-term fix; if we complete the study we could potentially have an off-the-shelf, cheap, safe intervention for further pandemics.
It’s been a long, testing and trying time for us – we’re a team of 20 staff who’ve been working seven days a week. Most of us are women, we have children and families at home and we are practicing social distancing. It’s certainly not the ideal situation to be preparing for a trial this size, but the excitement is keeping us going – the possibility of potentially doing something that will stem a world-wide pandemic is keeping us going. The attitude of the departments, healthcare workers and staff are keeping us going too. We will pull through.