BCG tuberculosis (TB) vaccine
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection which affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body such as the bones, joints and kidneys. It can also cause meningitis.
Although TB can be a very serious disease, it is possible to make a full recovery from most forms of TB with treatment.
Who should have the BCG vaccine?
The BCG vaccine (which stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine) protects against TB. It's not given as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule unless a baby is thought to have an increased risk of coming into contact with TB.
This includes all babies born in some areas of inner-city London where TB rates are higher than in the rest of the country.
BCG vaccination may also be recommended for older children who have an increased risk of developing TB, such as:
children who have recently arrived from countries with high levels of TB
children who have come into close contact with somebody infected with respiratory TB
BCG vaccination is rarely given to anyone over the age of 16 - and never over the age of 35, because it doesn't work very well in adults. It is, however, given to adults aged between 16 and 35 who are at risk of TB through their work, such as some healthcare workers.
How is the BCG vaccination given?
A baby at risk of TB can be vaccinated in hospital soon after they are born. Or, they can be referred to a local healthcare centre for vaccination after they've left hospital. This may not necessarily be the local GP surgery, as not all surgeries can provide this service.
If you are offered BCG vaccination as an adult, it will be arranged by a local healthcare centre.
If you or your child are not automatically offered a BCG vaccination on but you still wish to be vaccinated, you would usually have to be vaccinated at a private GP surgery or travel clinic, where you will be charged a fee.
How effective is BCG vaccination?
The BCG vaccine is made from a weakened form of a bacterium closely related to human TB. Because the bacterium is weak, the vaccine does not cause any disease but it still triggers the immune system to protect against the disease, giving good immunity to people who receive it.
The vaccine is 70-80% effective against the most severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis in children. It is less effective in preventing respiratory disease, which is the more common form in adults.