Vaccinations

Who should have the BCG (TB) vaccine?

BCG vaccination is recommended on the NHS for babies, children and adults under the age of 35 considered at risk of catching tuberculosis (TB). BCG vaccine isn't given to anyone over the age of 35 as there's no evidence it has any effect in this age-group.

Babies who should have the BCG vaccine

The BCG vaccination is recommended for all babies up to one year old who:

  • are born in areas where the rates of TB are high
  • have one or more parents or grandparents who were born in countries with a high incidence of TB

Older children who should have the BCG vaccine

The BCG vaccination is recommended for all older children and adults at risk of TB including:

  • older children with an increased risk of TB who were not vaccinated against TB when they were babies 
  • anyone under 16 who has come from an area where TB is widespread 
  • anyone under 16 who has been in close contact with someone who has pulmonary TB (TB infection of the lung)  

Adults aged 16-35 who should have the BCG vaccine

BCG vaccination is recommended for people between the ages of 16 and 35 who are at occupational risk of exposure to TB including:

  • laboratory staff who are in contact with blood, urine and tissue samples
  • veterinary staff and other animal workers, such as abattoir workers, who work with animals, such as cattle or monkeys, that are susceptible to TB
  • prison staff who work directly with prisoners
  • staff of care homes for the elderly
  • staff of hostels for homeless people
  • staff who work in facilities for refugees and asylum seekers
  • healthcare workers with an increased risk of exposure to TB

Travellers who should have the BCG vaccine

The BCG vaccine is also recommended for people under the age of 16 who are going to live and work with local people for more than three months in an area with high rates of TB.

Parts of the world that have high rates of TB include:

  • Africa  particularly sub-Saharan Africa (all the African countries south of the Sahara desert) and west Africa, including Nigeria and South Africa 
  • southeast Asia  including India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Bangladesh
  • Russia
  • China 
  • South America 
  • the western Pacific region (to the west of the Pacific Ocean)  including Vietnam and Cambodia

Read more about travel vaccinations.

Individual requests for BCG vaccination

If you want BCG vaccination for yourself or your child, you will be assessed for specific risk factors to TB. If you aren't at risk you won't be eligible for BCG vaccination. If you are at risk, you will be tuberculin tested and offered BCG vaccination according to local arrangements.

The tuberculin skin test/Mantoux test

Before you have the BCG vaccination, you should be tested to see if you are already infected with or have active TB disease. The test, called the tuberculin skin test, or Mantoux test, should be carried out before BCG vaccination if someone:

  • is six years or over
  • is a baby or child under six with a history of residence or a prolonged stay (more than three months) in a country with an annual TB incidence of 40 per 100,000 or more
  • has had close contact with a person with known TB
  • has a family history of TB within the last five years

The Mantoux test assesses your sensitivity to a substance called tuberculin purified protein derivative (PPD) when it's injected into your skin.  

The greater the reaction, the more likely it is that an individual is infected with or has active TB.  In this case, the individual should not have the BCG vaccine as it would have no clinical benefit and may cause unpleasant side effects. If you have a strongly positive Mantoux result, you should be referred to a TB specialist team for further assessment.

If the Mantoux test is negative, you can go ahead and have the BCG vaccine.

How is the BCG injection given?

BCG vaccination is given as an injection into the upper arm. If it's advised that your baby has the BCG vaccine, the jab is usually offered soon after birth or while your baby is still in hospital.

Who should not have the BCG vaccination?

The BCG vaccine is not recommended for:

  • people who have already had a BCG vaccination
  • people with a past history of TB
  • people with a positive tuberculin skin test (Mantoux)
  • people who have had a previous anaphylactic reaction (severe allergic reaction) to any of the substances used in the vaccine
  • newborn babies in a household where a case of TB is suspected or confirmed
  • people who have a septic skin condition at the site where the injection will be given 
  • people who have received another live vaccine less than three weeks earlier
  • people with a weakened immune system, either as a result of a health condition such as HIV, treatments such as chemotherapy or medicines that suppress the immune system such as steroid tablets
  • people who have cancer of the white blood cells, bone marrow or lymph nodes, such as leukaemia or lymphoma
  • people who are seriously unwell (vaccination should be delayed until they recover)
  • pregnant women

BCG vaccinations are not usually offered to people over the age of 16 and never over the age of 35 because the vaccine doesn't work well in adults.

Read the answers to the frequently asked questions about BCG.

Page last reviewed: 25/04/2014

Next review due: 25/04/2016

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

MelWaterfield92 said on 20 September 2013

Hi. My works have just sent out letters of 2 reported cases of TB 1 person hasn't worked there since may 2013 the other July 2013. Ive been on maternity leave and returned a few days ago my main concern is I haven't had the BCG vaccination and living with a 9 month old should I get it to be sure and safe. Thanks.

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