As soon as you give birth, your baby needs to go through a series of tests and vaccinations to ensure proper health. Aside from newborn screening, your doctor will recommend BCG vaccination for your child.
BCG vaccine stands for Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccine. It is given to your baby soon after birth or during your stay in the hospital to minimize the risk of catching tuberculosis or TB. It is also injected in the upper arm, which may often leave a mark as the child grows up.
The BCG vaccine must be given before the child turns 16. In some cases, adults below 35 can receive this vaccine. It is never given to adults more than 35 years old because the vaccine doesn’t work well in adults.
The BCG Vaccination Controversy
The BCG vaccine is made from weakened form of Mycobacterium bovis, which is closely similar to human TB. It triggers the body’s immune system, which could give up to 80 percent protection against the most severe forms of tuberculosis. Since then, the safety of BCG vaccine has never been an issue. In fact, millions of people had the vaccine since it was first introduced in 1921 and the side effects reported were infrequent.
Despite the vaccine’s good intentions, some countries or hospitals don’t include BCG in the childhood vaccination schedule. The reasons:
- Unless the baby has an increased risk of exposure with someone who has TB or comes from a country where there is high risk of TB, then the child does not need the vaccine.
- Some children are immune compromised such as those with HIV. This means instead of strengthening their immunity, the BCG vaccine could lead to infection.
- There are issues of contamination. In 2012, there was a worldwide recall of the BCG vaccine by Sanofi Pasteur. Some of the vaccines might be contaminated during the process, hence the worldwide recall.
- Tuberculosis is not a homogenous disease. This means reactivating the pulmonary disease with primary disseminated disease is misleading.
- The probability of exposure is also dependent on the geographic location. There will always be differences in the exposure to environmental mycobacteria for every child. This follows that the greater the exposure to such mycobacteria, the lower the efficacy of the vaccine.
In other words, the efficacy of the BCG vaccine will vary on location and exposure to mycobacteria.
What’s another option?
AERAS, a global non-profit biotech organization, is developing a newer, safer, more effective, and more affordable vaccine that will replace BCG. This vaccine aims to protect all strains of tuberculosis, including the different types of drug resistant. This will also be suitable for all ages, including those are infected with TB and HIV – something the BCG vaccine has not addressed. However, there is still no word as to when the vaccine will be available worldwide.
You may opt not to give BCG vaccine to your child, especially if there is low risk of exposure. However and until there is a better and more effective alternative, it is best to give your child BCG vaccine, regardless of the level of environmental exposure. When it comes to your child, prevention is always better than cure.