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All you need to know about the BCG Vaccine

Dr. Rashmi ByakodiJan 17, 2024

Tuberculosis (TB) has always been a leading cause of illness and death, especially in developing nations. It is a communicable disease that can be life-threatening if not treated. TB is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis.

According to the World Health Organization, after COVID-19, TB is the second most-infectious cause that leads to death. However, the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin or the BCG Vaccine, which was named by its inventors Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin, is administered to adults and children to prevent TB in most countries. This article talks about the BCG Vaccine in detail.




What is the BCG Vaccine?

The BCG Vaccine contains live, attenuated strains of mycobacterium bovis bacterium, which works by producing antibodies against the bacteria that causes Tuberculosis. Globally around 100 million children get immunized with BCG Vaccine per annum.

BCG Vaccine, works by preventing the development of TB in children. It is not only protective against TB, but it also protects children from dangerous diseases like meningitis and disseminated TB.

How is the BCG Vaccine given?

The BCG Vaccine is administered by giving an injection intradermally on your child’s upper left arm. This is the suggested spot because the tiny scar left after the vaccination can be easily noticed later as evidence of previous vaccination.

Occasionally, a test may be required before giving the BCG Vaccine. If your baby has already been affected by TB, your healthcare provider may advise for a TB skin test known as the Mantoux test. A positive test result means your child might have been infected with TB before, and the vaccine need not be given.

Duration and efficacy of BCG Vaccine

As per 2019 research BCG Vaccine is 95.5% effective in preventing acute TB, whereas it is 70 to 80% effective in most critical forms of TB, like TB meningitis in children. It also helps to reduce the risk of developing leprosy by 50 to 80%.

According to the World Health Organization, the duration of protection of BCG Vaccine lasts for 10 years and then may decline over time. However, another study by PubMed Central in 2018 indicates that the vaccine may have moderate protection against TB for at least 20 years.

Who should be vaccinated with BCG Vaccine?

Different groups or individuals to be considered for BCG Vaccination may include the following.

  • New-born's and children within 5 years of age who are at a high risk of exposure to pulmonary TB

  • Children between the ages of 7 to14 years who are not vaccinated earlier

  • Individuals or communities who have a high risk of exposure to multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB)

  • Unvaccinated tuberculin-negative persons

  • Healthcare workers who work in high TB transmission areas

  • Healthcare workers who work overseas in TB-endemic countries

  • People having bladder cancer

Who should not be vaccinated with BCG Vaccine?

Since BCG Vaccine is a live vaccine, it should not be given in the following cases.

  • Immuno-compromised people with the innate immunological disorder

  • HIV-infected patients

  • Patients who have leukemia or lymphoma

  • Patients who are taking immunosuppressive drugs like TNF-alpha blockers, and corticosteroids

  • People who have been affected by TB before

  • Pregnant women

  • Children who have SCID (severe combined immunodeficiency)

  • People who are already vaccinated with the BCG vaccine

  • People who are allergic to the vaccine or its components

Side effects of BCG Vaccination

As per studies, BCG Vaccine is considered to be very safe. However, some side effects may occur occasionally. The usual side effects of the BCG Vaccine may include these.

  • Redness or soreness at the injection site

  • A small lump followed by a pustule after 2 to 4 weeks

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Swelling of lymph nodes

Some rare, more complicated side effects may include abscesses, allergic reactions, bone inflammation, and disseminated TB.

BCG Vaccination aftercare

You can take care of the injection site by keeping the area dry and clean. You should never scrub that spot. Instead, you can pat it gently after washing. If the pustule starts oozing, then you may dress the wound in sterile gauze and a cotton swab. Never use any antiseptic creams, ointments, or plasters on the sore. Instead, leave the sore open to heal up faster. The sore may take 2 to 3 months to heal, and after that, it may leave a small permanent scar, which is normal.

When to see a doctor?

If your child experiences any of the following symptoms, it is advisable that you show it to your child’s doctor.

  • A big abscess filled with pus or fluid at the injection site

  • Swelling and inflammation under the arm

  • Severe skin rash

  • Difficulty breathing

Frequently Asked Questions

Here’s a list of common questions and answers related to the BCG vaccine.


How can I protect my child from TB?

You can get your child vaccinated with the BCG vaccine to protect your child from TB. BCG Vaccine helps your child’s immune system to fight against the bacteria that cause TB.

What is the best time for having the BCG Vaccine?

It is always desirable to get your child immunised with BCG Vaccine within a few days of birth up to six months. But BCG Vaccine can be given at any time up to five years of age.

How should I get my child vaccinated with BCG Vaccine?

To get your child vaccinated with BCG Vaccine, you should contact your paediatrician or local public health services.

Why is BCG Vaccine not given after 16 years?

The BCG Vaccine is not given after 16 years because there is inadequate evidence regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine in adults.

What are the common side effects of BCG Vaccines?

Some commonly reported side effects of the BCG Vaccine may include these.

  • Redness or soreness at the injection site

  • A small lump followed by a pustule after 2 to 4 weeks

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Swelling of lymph nodes


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.


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