Frontiers | Mitigating Coronavirus Induced Dysfunctional Immunity for At-Risk Populations in COVID-19: Trained Immunity, BCG and “New Old Friends” | Immunology


The novel, highly contagious coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 spreads rapidly throughout the world, leading to a deadly pandemic of a predominantly respiratory illness called COVID-19. Safe and effective anti-SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are urgently needed. However, emerging immunological observations show hallmarks of significant immunopathological characteristics and dysfunctional immune responses in patients with COVID-19. Combined with existing knowledge about immune responses to other closely related and highly pathogenic coronaviruses, this could forebode significant challenges for vaccine development, including the risk of vaccine failure. Animal data from earlier coronavirus vaccine efforts indicate that elderly people, most at risk from severe COVID-19 disease, could be especially at risk from immunopathologic responses to novel coronavirus vaccines. Bacterial “new old friends” such as Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) or Mycobacterium obuense have the ability to elevate basal systemic levels of type 1 cytokines and immune cells, correlating with increased protection against diverse and unrelated infectious agents, called “trained immunity.” Here we describe dysfunctional immune responses induced by coronaviruses, representing potentially difficult to overcome obstacles to safe, effective vaccine development for COVID-19, and outline how trained immunity could help protect high risk populations through immunomodulation with BCG and other “new old friends.”

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