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Texas A&M University Starts Trial Of Tuberculosis Vaccine To Fight The Coronavirus

COLLEGE STATION (CBSDFW.COM) - There's new scrutiny for a key component of testing in the United States as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Antibody tests help determine if a person has had the virus, but there are questions about whether they work. One researcher described the accuracy as "really terrible."

Immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said antibody testing to check for past infection are critical. "The problem is that these are tests that need to be validated and calibrated, and many of the tests out there don't do that."

So scientists in California - including at the renowned Chan Zuckerberg Biohub - decided to see how bad they are. Out of the 12 tests they looked at, several had frequent false positives -- with one having false positives more than 15% of the time.

Three other labs had false positives more than 10% of the time or more.

Last month, the the U.S. Food and Drug Administration relaxed their standards for the tests, allowing them to be sold without submitting any data showing they work.

For weeks the FDA and other agencies have been saying they'll figure out which tests work best… but the agency told CNN they had nothing to share on the effort.

While government scientists try to work that out, doctors at Texas A&M University announced the start a clinical trial of a 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine. It can help boost the immune system, and they hope it will work for COVID-19.

Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said, "Sometimes we've found that an old drug, one that we've used for years can serve a new purpose."

An advantage of old drugs for new purposes: they've been used before, so doctors know a lot about their safety profile.

Hundreds of millions of doses of the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine are given every year, mostly in developing countries.

One disadvantage is since it wasn't designed specifically for COVID-19, it might not work on the novel coronavirus, and it could be harmful to some.

"Seems a bit of a stretch, but it's very novel and desperate times demand desperate measures. It's worth the clinical trial," Schaffner said.

In the end, it might be a combination of old and new drugs that get us out of the pandemic

Schaffner said, "We need a multi-pronged approach because we need help here. And we need to go down every trail, investigate every possibility."

The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped one million this week.

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