Viewpoint: 2 existing technologies that should be part of the US pandemic response

While the U.S. races to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, there are two technologies already in widespread use outside the country that may limit virus transmission: germicidal ultraviolet light and the antituberculosis vaccine BCG, according to Salmaan Keshavjee, MD, PhD, and Tom Nicholson.

In a Nov. 16 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Keshavjee, director of Harvard Medical School's global health delivery center, and Mr. Nicholson, research associate at Duke University's international development center, explain how the two technologies can help protect vulnerable populations while reducing airborne viral transmission in indoor spaces.

Outfitting indoor public spaces with UVC germicidal lighting devices could be a less costly alternative to the trillions the federal government has already spend to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic, according to Dr. Keshavjee and Mr. Nicholson. Studies show that when used in conjunction with effective ventilation systems, UVC germicidal lighting provides the same effect as completely replacing the air in a room more than 10 times an hour. This reduces transmission of airborne diseases in indoor settings.

The second tool is the antituberculosis vaccine BCG, which has been used for almost a century and protects against tuberculosis. A National Institutes of Health study published in the journal Cell last month found that BCG vaccination triggers a general immune response that decreases viral respiratory tract infections by 79 percent in the elderly, and in a United Arab Emirates trial, no hospital workers randomly assigned to receive the BCG booster developed COVID-19, while 8.6 percent of those who did not receive a booster were infected.

Dr. Keshavjee and Mr. Nicholson concluded that if the U.S. "were to fold [the two technologies] into its pandemic strategy alongside localized contact tracing, appropriate use of masks, targeted testing and, possibly, a new Covid vaccine, we would protect our essential workers and begin the process of safely reopening society."


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