The BCG vaccine protects against tuberculosis, which is also known as TB.
TB is a serious infection that affects the lungs and sometimes other parts of the body, such as the brain (meningitis), bones, joints and kidneys.
Who should have the BCG vaccine and when
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.
The BCG vaccine should only be given once in a lifetime.
BCG for babies
BCG vaccination is recommended for babies up to 1 year old who:
- are born in areas of the UK where TB rates are high
- have a parent or grandparent who was born in a country where there's a high rate of TB
- live with, or are close contacts of, someone with infectious TB
If the BCG vaccine is recommended for your baby, it will usually be offered at about 28 days old.
This may be offered at a hospital, a local healthcare centre or, occasionally, at your GP surgery.
BCG for children aged 16 and under
BCG vaccination may also be recommended for older children who have an increased risk of developing TB, such as:
- children who have a parent or grandparent who was born in a country where there's a high rate of TB
- children who have recently arrived from countries with high levels of TB, including those in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, parts of southeast Asia, parts of South and Central America, and parts of the Middle East
- children who will be living with local people for 3 months or longer in countries with high rates of TB
- children who live with, or are close contacts of, someone with infectious TB
BCG for adults
BCG vaccination is rarely given to anyone over the age of 16 because there is little evidence it works very well in adults.
But it's given to adults aged 16 to 35 who are at risk of TB through their work, such as some healthcare workers, veterinary staff and abattoir workers.
If you're offered BCG vaccination as an adult, it will usually be arranged through your local occupational health department.
How the BCG vaccination is given
BCG vaccination is given as an injection into the left upper arm.
The vaccination usually leaves a small scar.
How well the BCG vaccine works
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 infection but does not give you TB.
It provides consistent protection against the most severe forms of TB, such as TB meningitis in children.
It's less effective in preventing TB that affects the lungs in adults, so has limited impact on the spread of TB.
Side effects of the BCG vaccine
Like all vaccines, the BCG vaccine can cause side effects, but they're uncommon and generally mild.
Some common side effects may include:
- soreness or discharge from where the injection was given
- a high temperature (fever)
- swollen glands under the armpit in the arm where the injection was given
More serious complications, such as abscesses, bone inflammation and widespread TB are rare.
Most children develop a sore at the injection site. Once healed, the sore may leave a small scar. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
Serious side effects from the BCG vaccine, such as a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis), are very rare.
The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report suspected side effects from a vaccine. It's run by the medicines safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Page last reviewed: 26 April 2019
Next review due: 26 April 2022