The BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin) vaccine protects against tuberculosis, also referred to as TB. TB is an infection which can affect not only the lungs but other body parts like the joints, kidneys and bones. It is also capable of causing meningitis.
The BCG vaccine is produced from a weakened TB strain. This weakened (attenuated) strain triggers the immune system to protect against TB.
How effective is the BCG vaccine?
The BCG vaccine is recognised as offering good immunity to those who receive it, while not presenting a danger of causing TB. It is understood that the vaccine is from 70 to 80 per cent effective against severe forms of the disease, like TB meningitis in children. It has been found that the BCG vaccine is less effective in the prevention of respiratory disease; a common form of TB for adults.
Who is the BCG vaccine for?
Ideally, the BCG vaccine is given during the first year but the BCG vaccine can be given to any child considered as having an increased risk of coming into contact with the disease. The vaccine protects infants from the complications of Tuberculosis and so earlier is better but can given at any age.
The BCG vaccine is not routinely given to all children as part of the UK immunisation schedule but is targeted to those most at risk. The BCG vaccine is available privately for all children.
BCG vaccination is recommended for those born in areas of the UK where there is a higher TB rate, such as London; or those with a parent or grandparent born in a country where there is a high TB rate.
Children over 6 years of age and some children who may have been exposed to TB require a blood and/or skin test prior to receiving the vaccine.
Is the BCG vaccine safe for all children?
The BCG vaccine should not be given to children who have already received a dose of the BCG vaccine, have had TB in the past, or a skin or blood test suggesting past exposure to TB. The BCG vaccine is unsafe for children who have a weakened immune system caused by illnesses or medications that suppress the immune system.
No – the BCG vaccination is not offered to secondary school children any more in the UK. In 2005, a programme focusing on babies and children recognised as having a higher risk of developing TB was launched.
The BCG vaccine is given by injection into the top layer of the skin. This is known as an intradermal injection. This differs from most vaccines that are given by a downward injection into the muscle, known as an intramuscular injection. The recommended site of injection of the BCG vaccine is just above the middle of the left arm.
The vaccine is given once and repeat BCG injection is not recommended.
No further vaccines should be given into the same arm, where BCG has been injected for 3 months after the injection.
The BCG vaccine does not generally cause fever or other immediate side effects and is well tolerated by infants.
The Department of Health Immunisation Green Book ( a trusted, evidence-based resource relating to immunisations) describes what to expect after BCG vaccination.
A reaction usually occurs 2 to 3 weeks after injection and there is no fever expected on day of injection. A red pimple usually appears at the site of the injection. This pimple may become redder and may discharge. This may last for several weeks/months and heals with a scar. The injection site is best left exposed to air to allow healing and does not need to be covered.
Yes. Infants and children who do not meet the criteria to have the vaccine via the UK NHS immunisation programme can have this given privately by a paediatrician.
Ideally the vaccine is given during the first year and can be given any time from 4 weeks of
age or after newborn screening results are available.
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