The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis, which is also known as TB.
TB is a serious infection which affects the lungs and sometimes other parts of the body, such as the bones, joints and kidneys. It can also cause meningitis.
Read more about tuberculosis (TB).
Who should have the BCG vaccine?
The BCG vaccine (which stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine) is not given as part of the routine NHS vaccination schedule. It's given on the NHS only when a child or adult is thought to have an increased risk of coming into contact with TB.
BCG for babies
BCG vaccination is recommended for all babies up to one year old who:
- are born in areas where TB rates are higher than in the rest of the country, including some parts of inner London
- have a parent or grandparent who was born in a country where there is a high rate of TB
BCG for children
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, including those in sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian sub-continent and parts of Eastern Europe
- children who have come into close contact with somebody infected with respiratory TB
BCG for adults
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 16 to 35 who are at risk of TB through their work, such as some healthcare workers.
Read more about who should have the BCG vaccine.
How is the BCG vaccination given?
BCG vaccination is given as an injection into the upper arm.
The vaccination usually leaves a small scar.
Read more about potential BCG vaccination side effects.
When is the BCG vaccination given?
If it's advised that your baby has the BCG vaccine, the injection is usually offered soon after birth, while your baby is still in hospital.
Alternatively, your baby 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.
How effective is BCG vaccination?
The BCG vaccine is made from a weakened strain of TB bacteria. Because the bacteria in the vaccine is weak, it triggers the immune system to protect against the disease, giving good immunity to people who receive it, without actually causing the disease.
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 of TB in adults.
There have been problems with the supply of the usual BCG vaccine. Public Health England has secured a supply of an alternative BCG vaccine to protect babies who are eligible for the vaccine. For more information, talk to your GP, nurse or midwife.
Article provided by NHS Choices