BCG (tuberculosis) vaccination

Page last reviewed: 09/04/2020

The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine provides protection against tuberculosis (TB).

TB is an infection caused by a bacterium called mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The most common form of TB in Ireland affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body such as the bones, joints and kidneys. It can also cause meningitis.

TB can be a very serious disease, but with effective treatment, it is possible to make a full recovery from most forms of TB.

For more information, see the Health A-Z topic about TB.

Who should have the vaccine?

The BCG vaccine has not been administered  to babies in Ireland since 2015 due to global stock issues. 

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) and the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) have both recommended that BCG vaccine does not now need to be given routinely to all children in Ireland.

The Department of Health will make a decision on NIAC and HIQA recommendations.

The HSE must await instruction from the Department of Health regarding BCG vaccination.

Page last reviewed: 09/04/2020

How does the vaccine work?

The BCG vaccine contains a strain of mycobacterium bovis, which is a bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. The bacteria have been altered so that they do not cause a TB infection but make your immune system produce antibodies. These make you immune (resistant) to the disease.

Where is TB still a problem?

Poor conditions are still present in many less developed countries.Several strains of TB bacteria have developed a resistance to one or more anti-TB medications, making them much harder to treat. This has been because individuals have not completed the course of treatment or have been prescribed inappropriate treatment, or because the supply of drugs is inadequate.The BCG vaccination is effective against some severe forms of the disease, such as TB meningitis in children, but it is not effective against all forms of TB.The global epidemic of HIV that began in the 1980s has led to a corresponding epidemic of TB cases. This is because HIV weakens a person's immune system, which makes them more likely to develop a TB infection.

How common is TB in Ireland?

In 1952, there were nearly 7,000 cases of TB notified in Ireland. The combination of better living conditions, antibiotics against TB, and BCG vaccine have dramatically reduced the number of cases of TB in Ireland. In 2019, the total number of cases notified nationally was 272. Detailed reports on the epidemiology of TB can be found on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website.

Where is TB widespread?

TB is found throughout the world. Parts of the world known to have high rates of TB include sub-Saharan Africa (all the countries south of the Sahara desert) and Asia. If you are planning to visit a high-risk country and work or live with local people for more than a month, the BCG vaccination is usually recommended.

Is TB contagious?

Yes. TB is spread when a person with an active infection of TB in their lungs coughs or sneezes, and somebody else inhales a droplet of contaminated saliva. However, TB is not as infectious as the common cold or the flu. You usually need to spend a long time in close contact with an infected person before you catch TB. For example, infections usually spread between family members who are living in the same house.

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Content provided by NHS Choices www.nhs.uk and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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