BCG vaccination for babies
The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination is given to new born babies at risk of getting tuberculosis (TB). TB is a very serious infectious disease that can cause TB meningitis in babies.
How the BCG vaccine works
BCG vaccine has a weakened form of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB).
The vaccine doesn't cause TB, but helps your baby develop protection (immunity) against the disease.
The BCG vaccination is particularly effective in protecting babies and young children against the more rare severe forms of TB such as TB meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain).
TB is a serious, but curable, infectious disease that can lead to TB meningitis in babies.
Most people in Northern Ireland recover fully after treatment, however, TB meningitis can be fatal or cause severe disability.
How TB is spread
You can only catch TB from someone coughing whose lungs or throat are already infected with TB.
When they cough, tiny droplets are produced that contain the bacteria. If you breathe in the droplets you too can catch the infection.
You usually need to spend a long time in close contact with an infected person (with TB in their lungs or throat) before you catch TB.
Symptoms of TB
TB can affect any part of the body. You should contact the doctor if you or your baby:
- have a cough that lasts longer than three weeks
- have a fever
- sweat especially at night
- unexplained weight loss
- a general and unusual sense of tiredness and being unwell
- cough up blood
When the BCG vaccine is given
The vaccine is given to a baby if they are likely to come into contact with someone who has TB.
This includes babies who:
- live in an area with high rates of TB
- have parents or grandparents that are from a country with high rates of TB
The vaccine is offered when your baby is newborn in hospital or after you bring your baby home.
How the vaccine is given
Your baby will get the BCG vaccination in the upper part of the left arm.
Possible side effects
Immediately after the injection, a raised blister will appear. This shows that the injection has been given properly.
Within two to six weeks of the injection a small spot will appear. This may be quite sore for a few days, but it should gradually heal if you don’t cover it. It may leave a small scar.
Occasionally, your baby may develop a shallow sore where they had the injection. If this is oozing fluid and needs to be covered, use a dry dressing – never a plaster – until a scab forms. This sore may take as long as several months to heal.
If you are worried or you think the sore has become infected, see your doctor.
Asking for BCG vaccination
The vaccine is only offered to people at increased risk of tuberculosis infection. You or your child will be assessed to check you're eligible for vaccination.
For more information about the vaccine and tuberculosis, go to the PHA website:
- BCG and your baby: protecting your baby against TB
- TB (Tuberculosis): the disease, its treatment and prevention