Dr Sophie Niedermaier MD, consultant paediatrician at Richmond Practice, tells us what we need to know about the BCG vaccine
The BCG vaccine is a live vaccine against tuberculosis (TB), which can be a serious disease in young children. Studies have shown that immunisation in the first year of life protects against the most severe forms in 70% to 80% of cases.
The BCG vaccine is recommended to all babies up to one year who are born in areas of the UK with high rates of TB or who have a parent or grandparent from a high-risk country (see Government TB report 2016:13). In London, areas north of the river Thames are particularly affected. Live vaccines such as MMR should either be given at the same time as the BCG vaccine or at least four weeks after the injection but all routine immunisations in the first year, including the Rotavirus vaccine, can be given. Babies who have a high fever or weakened immune system should not be vaccinated.
The vaccine is administered into the skin of the left arm. It leaves a small mark which can develop into a blister after two to six weeks. It heals by itself but usually a small scar remains. The site doesn’t need to be protected during washing. Sometimes a scab appears which might take longer to heal. Small ulcers should be kept dry and exposed to air; otherwise it might not heal properly. Occasionally, the axillary lymph nodes can swell after the injection. Immunity is reached after six weeks.