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BCG or the Bacille Calmette-Guerin is a vaccine to prevent TB (tuberculosis). BCG vaccine is used for inoculating both children as well as adults. Taking preventive action against any lethal disease is always the best approach. That's why children and adults who live in proximity to infected people should get vaccinated. Just like all vaccines, BCG builds up immunity against TB infection, but is not a cure if anyone is already suffering from the disease. The main constituent in BCG vaccine is a weak strain of TB bacteria that strengthens the body's immune system and builds resistance against the infection. As per the UK's NHS, it protects over 80% people against severe TB for a minimum 15 years.

Why is the BCG Vaccine Given?

Tuberculosis is a lethal infection that strikes the lungs and can also scar or damage other organs. According to the WHO, over 10 million people suffered from tuberculosis across the world in 2019. It is prevalent across all age groups.

Timely vaccination is the best preventive strategy in the fight against TB. Elimination of TB by 2030 is one of the aims of UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), which makes a comprehensive strategy against the disease imperative, and vaccination is the most crucial pillar of it. It's estimated that more than 25% of TB patients in the world are in India.

How does the BCG Vaccine Work?

BCG vaccine contains a weak TB strain known as Mycobacterium bovis that's known to cause bovine TB, but doesn't lead to any symptoms in healthy people. Since the body detects this strain, it starts developing immunity against TB. This TB vaccine may also contain other ingredients like glycerol, sodium and potassium. BCG vaccine full form is Bacille Calmette-Guerin.

How is the BCG vaccine Given?

Prior to administering the vaccine, the doctor conducts a skin test. This is done to ensure that the person doesn’t suffer from TB already. Unlike most other vaccines, BCG is not given via a syringe or an intravenous injection, but is inserted into the skin of the upper arm using a needle so that the dose directly reaches the lower skin layers. Skin soreness may happen for a few days. In some cases, there may even be mild flu symptoms for 2 days. If the symptoms persist and there's high fever, it is advisable to contact the doctor. If there's skin sore, the spot should be kept covered with loose clothing for at least a day.

Who Should Get the BCG Vaccine?

BCG vaccine is mostly administered to children and is indispensable to prevent TB. While all healthy children and adults in areas of outbreak should take the vaccine without fail, it's also a must for those who live in proximity to leprosy patients. The following should take the BCG vaccine:

  • Age Group

Children less than 6 years of age

  • Transmission Zone Residents

Children who live in areas with high TB infection rate

  • High-Risk travel

Children who will be making frequent trips to countries with high TB infection rates

  • Leprosy History

New-born children born to families with a history of leprosy or children less than six years of age who came in contact with someone who had leprosy.

Who Should Not Take the BCG Vaccine?

Vaccines are recommended for healthy children and adults, but those suffering from certain ailments or disorders should consult a doctor whether or not they can take BCG. Those with the following conditions should not go for TB vaccine at all:

  • Underweight Children

Infants who weigh less than 2 Kgs

  • Congenital Immune Deficiencies

Children who have immune deficiency by birth should not be administered BCG vaccine

  • TB Patients

Children or adults suffering from TB or those who had TB in the past

  • HIV Positive Individuals

Those who are HIV positive have a compromised immune system, so they should avoid BCG

  • Kidney Patients

Those suffering from any type of kidney disorders should not take BCG vaccine

  • Organ Transplants

People who have had a bone marrow transplant or any other vital organ transplant

  • Terminal Diseases

Patients afflicted with diseases like lymphoma, carcinoma, Hodgins disease or any type of cancer

  • Skin Diseases

Those with pre-existing dermatological conditions such as eczema should avoid tuberculosis vaccine

  • Nutritional Deficiency

Malnourished children should not be administered the BCG vaccine

  • Pregnant Women

Expecting mothers should also not go for the BCG vaccine dose

What are the BCG Vaccine Ingredients?

These are the main ingredients of BCG vaccine:

Ingredient

Utility

Weak Bacterium Strain

Main vaccine ingredient is a weak strain called Mycobacterium bovis that contains a live bacterium that helps build the body's immune response against TB

Glycerol

Non-Toxic stabilizer

Sodium

Sodium and potassium are added as other ingredients

Citric Acid

It is also one of the important ingredients

What Happens If I Miss a Dose?

BCG is mostly a single dose vaccine, however, within 2-3 months you need to go for a TB skin test to check whether you have developed antibodies against TB or not. In case the TB skin test is negative means you haven’t developed antibodies and you will have to retake a BCG dose.

What are the BCG Vaccine Pros & Cons?

Pros of BCG vaccine:

  • Highly Effective: Up to 80% effective against TB

  • Total Protection: Most potent prevention against TB

  • Multiple Strains: Safeguards against all severe TB strains and diseases including meningitis

  • Long Duration: BCG vaccine provides protection for a minimum 15 years

  • Cons of BCG vaccine:

  • Side-Effects: There may be side effects ranging from mild to severe

  • Not for Patients: Those who suffer from medical conditions cannot take it

  • Anaphylaxis: Just like any other vaccine there are rare chances of a revere allergy

Side-Effects of BCG Vaccine:

Though the BCG vaccine is highly safe, there are still possibilities of side-effects. Side effects such as skin soreness, headache and fever, skin blisters, lymph node swelling, bone infection, dehydration, fatigue and muscle pain can be noticed in the worst cases. Contact your doctor immediately in case of such side effects.

In the Nutshell

TB is next only to HIV in being the disease that infects the highest number of people and wrecks their immune system. It’s a highly contagious disease that can lead to multiple organ failure and brain damage. BCG full form stands for the weakened strain of the bacterium. Prevention is the best cure against TB and that’s why the BCG vaccine should be taken. Getting the vaccine is not a very challenging task. Just make a note of the BCG vaccine's full form which is Bacille Calmette-Guerin and the BCG vaccine price in India is in the range of Rs. 500- Rs. 700 to ensure you have all the details when in search of it. Tuberculosis vaccine should be administered to all healthy children and adults who live in areas with high TB transmission. Mass vaccination is the only way to eradicate TB completely. And, if you were to encounter the disease even after the necessary precautions, you must not be off guard. This is why you can consider exploring health insurance options.

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