Researcher handling test tubes in a laboratory_lab

An experimental tuberculosis vaccine is set to be tested in a clinical trial of adults and adolescents. If successful, it would be the first new TB vaccine available since 1921.

The Gates Foundation on Wednesday disclosed that it would fund the trial, according to medical news outlet STAT. 

The new trial aims to reveal whether the vaccine can prevent illness in adults and adolescents who have latent infections (infections with no symptoms). This stands in contrast to the older medication, called the BCG vaccine, which is designed and used to prevent active TB in children, STAT reported.

The new clinical trial has a global focus, as worldwide TB mortality is about 1.6 million people each year, STAT noted. But TB affects vulnerable groups in the United States population and is a problem for many residents of U.S. nursing home facilities. In fact, the news follows a recent recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that clinicians screen for latent tuberculosis infection in at-risk adults aged 18 years and older, including those living in congregate settings.

The task force recommendation did not explicitly mention the nursing home population among high-risk groups, but long-term care facilities are generally considered high-risk congregate settings. And in an unrelated 2019 study, researchers noted that “despite advances in diagnosis and treatment, the rate of TB is four times higher in residents of nursing homes than in the general population.” 

If left untreated, tuberculosis can be life-threatening, and as a highly infectious disease can spread to other residents. Delayed or missed diagnoses could result in increased transmission.

The new Gates Foundation-funded clinical trial will be conducted across 50 sites in Africa and Asia and will likely take four to six years to complete, STAT reported.

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