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BCG vaccine prevents tuberculosis (TB). BCG stands for "Bacille Calmette-Guerin" and is named after Dr Calmette and Dr Guerin who developed the vaccine in the early part of last century. It has been used since 1921 to prevent TB. BCG vaccine was developed from a germ similar to TB called Mycobacterium bovis. It is a live vaccine that has been processed so that it is not harmful to humans.
For more information please read the Kids Health Info factsheet: TB tuberculosis
The BCG vaccine does not prevent someone being infected with the bacteria that causes TB, but it prevents the development of the disease. It is specifically designed to prevent TB in children. It is very effective in preventing severe TB such as meningitis (brain inflammation) in young infants and can be given from birth onwards. BCG vaccine protects children for about 10 years and the World Health Organization recommends a single lifetime dose.
The BCG vaccine is given by an injection just under the skin (intradermal). It is usually given on the upper left arm.
In some instances, tests may need to be done before receiving the BCG vaccine. This occurs if there is a chance your child has already been infected with TB. If this is the case, the doctor will arrange for a TB skin test, called a Mantoux test. If the skin test is positive (i.e. your child may have previously been infected with TB) the BCG vaccine should not be given. If the skin test is negative, your child will be able to receive the BCG vaccine.
Some people should not get the BCG vaccine because the vaccine could cause complications. This includes people who:
Because TB is not common in Australia, BCG vaccine is not part of the routine vaccination schedule.
Adverse reactions to vaccines (also called vaccine side effects) do sometimes occcur. The BCG vaccine is associated with some common and some rare side effects.
The usual expected reaction to BCG vaccination is redness and/or a small lump at the injection site, followed by a small ulcer (an open sore) a few weeks later. The ulcer is usually less than one centimetre in diameter and may last from a few weeks to a few months before healing to a small flat scar.
Produced by RCH Depts of Emergency and Infectious Diseases .First published Jan 2005. Updated September 2012.