Do you know the importance of the BCG vaccine for your newborn baby?

By: - 5th February 2019

“So sad to prick the little darling to give vaccines. If there’s a medicine that can be given orally, we can somehow manage. They can’t even speak up to tell that they are in pain.”

The moment of administering vaccines is quite sorrowful for every mother and father with a newborn baby. You feel terrible about having to hurt the baby. Distressing thoughts such as he might get a fever or he will be crying nonstop will overwhelm them. However, parents will never choose to skip these vaccinations for the baby. Even with sadness and anxiety, they will somehow get the vaccinations done according to the clinic card. This is because they are well aware of the protection the child gets from these vaccinations.

In Sri Lanka, when childbirth happens in a hospital, the BCG vaccine will be definitely administered before the baby leaves the premises. This is why we thought it is necessary to tell you about the BCG vaccine and the importance of administering it.

BCG (Bacillus Calmette–Guérin) vaccine is given with the purpose of preventing Tuberculosis. Tuberculosis is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. With the BCG vaccine, four kinds of Tuberculosis related complications are prevented. They are Pulmonary Tuberculosis, TB Meningitis (Tuberculosis in the meninges layers of the brain), and Military TB (Tuberculosis that spreads throughout the body).

The BCG vaccine is usually administered before the newborn baby leaves the hospital and, if this was not done for any reason, the vaccine will be given between 6 months and 5 years of age. However, in certain situations, the BCG vaccine will not be given at all.

The situations in which the BCG vaccine will not be given,

  • Birth weight is less than 2000g
  • Suspicions of congenital immune deficiencies
  • Hypersensitivity to Tuberculin Skin test
  • HIV / AIDS infection
  • Having primary and secondary immune deficiencies
  • Severe/abnormal infections
  • Defective immune system

Also, if a baby died unexpectedly after previous childbirth, make sure to tell your doctor well beforehand. The BCG vaccine is not given when there’s a deficiency in the immune system, because it can result in Tuberculosis infection.

The BCG vaccine is administered just under the skin (intradermally), on the topmost muscle of the left upper arm. Although soon after vaccinating you wouldn’t see any scar on the skin, if you touch the place in 2-6 weeks, you will feel a slight lump. Very slowly this lump will turn red and produce pus. The size of the lump will vary from child to child. On some children, you can see scars the size of 1cm. However, mothers no need to panic in this situation. The most important thing for the parents to keep in mind is never to try and break the lump in anyways or apply anything to it or massage/squeeze it.

In some children, the blister bursting and leaking pus can happen even several times. It’s a normal condition.

If a lump or a scar does not develop within 6 months, Epidemiological Unit of Sri Lanka recommends re-administering the BCG vaccine. However, adults who do not develop the scar do not have to re-administer.

Situations in which medical advice must be sought after administering the BCG vaccine,

  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Blood passing with urine
  • Painful and frequent urination
  • Stomach pains and discomforts
  • Vomiting
  • Glandular swellings under the left arm or on the left of the neck (a very rare condition)
Prepared in consultation with Dr M.N. Jayawardena, Senior Registrar in Mycology at the Medical Research Institute of Sri Lanka

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