Evewoman : Why can't I find the BCG vaccine?


Why can't I find the BCG vaccine?

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Dear Dr Ombeva,

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Thank you for your good work. There have been stock outs of BCG vaccine in most parts of the country and most children including my sister’s son have not received BCG vaccine. I am worried these children will get infected with TB any time soon. What can we do now that there is no BCG vaccine?


Dear Eva,

Thank you for your question. BCG vaccine, or bacille Calmette-Guerin vaccine, is a vaccine given to new born babies to prevent against severe forms of tuberculosis (TB) disease (ie childhood tuberculous meningitis and miliary TB disease); especially in most countries with a high prevalence of TB .

As such, BCG does NOT prevent against uncomplicated TB disease. This means any child whether vaccinated or not can still get TB. For the child who has missed BCG vaccine due to the stock outs in the health facilities, the parents should still ensure that the child receives all other vaccines as scheduled, especially the vaccines for 6, 10, and 14 weeks. The BCG vaccine can then be given later in the year when the stocks are restored.

Ensure that you keep checking with your nearest health facility to inquire when the BCG stocks are refilled to have the child vaccinated. If the child develops persistent fever, chronic cough that does not respond to common antibiotics, drenching night sweats, weight loss, refusal to feed or failure to gain weight, such child should be evaluated for presence of TB in the child.

The same applies to a child who has an adult in the home who has TB or is on TB treatment or a child born to an HIV infected parent and is thus confirmed HIV infected with severe disease or one with a primary immunodeficiency. The other common questions regarding BCG often relates to whether a child who does not have a BCG scar should get repeat vaccination.

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The answer depends on whether as a parent you are sure the child got vaccinated with BCG and it was recorded in the child’s immunization card. If the child indeed got the vaccine, then there is NO need for repeat vaccination even if the scar is not visible. If the vaccine was not given or there is no record of the vaccine being given, such child can be vaccinated with BCG.

Dr Ombeva Malande is a paediatrics and child health expert

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