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.
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