BCG Vaccine – Its Evolution and Importance


The scar on the lower half of the arm near the elbow is normal to many Kenyans; its bearers do not often think about its significance. This scar, that forms a few weeks after administration,is an indication of having received the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which protects its bearer from Tuberculosis (TB) disease from a young age.

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infectious disease that often affects the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body. It is an airborne disease, which is easily spread when people who suffer from it expel the bacteria through coughing, sneezing and singing. In addition to spreading the disease to others, if left untreated, a person may become severely ill or die.

Tuberculosis still remains one of the world’s deadliest communicable diseases, claiming the lives of approximately 1.5 million people annually, according to global statistics published in 2013. Kenya is one of the 22 high burden TB countries in the world, with a TB mortality rate of 22 deaths per 100,000, a figure that is above the global average.

History of TB and the BCG Vaccine


Scientists have confirmed the presence of TB in humans from ancient times. Traces of the disease have been found in skeletal remains from the prehistoric era. “Consumption” and “Phthisis” were terms historically used to describe TB, a disease that was responsible for one in every four deaths during the 19th century.

Tuberculosis was responsible for one in every four deaths during the 19th century. Before the Industrial Revolution, myths often associated TB with vampires. This belief grew as a result of infected family members losing their health, when one member of their family died from TB. People believed the original person caused this with TB draining the life from the other family members.

Robert Koch discovered the TB causing germ in March 1882, and received a Nobel Peace Prize for this in 1905. The first genuine success in immunisation against TB was achieved in 1906, when Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin invented the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination for Tuberculosis.

The BCG vaccine was first used on humans in 1921 in France, but received widespread acceptance in the US, Great Britain, and Germany only after World War II. This vaccine provides some protection against severe forms of paediatric non-pulmonary TB, such as TB meningitis, but is unreliable against adult pulmonary TB, which accounts for most of the TB disease burden and transmission worldwide.

Today, all children born in Kenyan hospitals receive the life-saving BCG vaccination immediately after birth. This immunisation is on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of essential medicines, and is part of the Immunisation Schedule of the Kenya Expanded Programme on Immunisation (KEPI).

The vaccine, which is given as a single dose, is given as an injection to infants on the left forearm and leaves a distinctive scar.

All mothers need to ensure that their children have received the BCG, along with the Polio and Hepatitis B vaccines, before they are discharged from hospital after delivery. These vaccines can be acquired at no cost at all Kenyan hospitals.

Recent BCG Vaccine Shortage in Kenya

Towards the tail end of 2015, fears erupted across the country as the Ministry of Health announced the shortage of BCG vaccine supplies. The deadly nature of TB coupled with its high prevalence in Kenya, were the main contributors to the scare.

Principal Secretary of Health, Dr Nicholas Muraguri explained that the vaccine shortage had been occasioned by production delays at a global level, leading to limited supplies across the African region.

In January 2016, mothers and their babies breathed a sigh of relief, as 1.3 million doses of the serum landed in the country, with 3.4 million more being expected to follow soon after.

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Title: BCG Vaccine – Its Evolution and Importance ( 16 ) ( 16 )

16 Responses to “BCG Vaccine – Its Evolution and Importance”

  1. Jkk

    There are no BIG vaccines in our facilities till now in central region. How can CHS help?

    • Alex Kimechwa

      Dear Jkk,

      We are sorry to hear that. CHS does not deal directly with any government arm dealing with vaccines.

      You can get in touch with the Division of Vaccines and Immunisation at the Ministry of Health for further assistance, using the contacts below:

      Ministry of Health, Afya House, Cathedral Road,
      P.O. Box:30016–00100, Nairobi, Kenya.
      Telephone: +254-20-2717077
      Email: ps(at)

      These would be the best people to advise you.

  2. Simon

    My daughter was vaccinated but after some time the scar disappeared. Is there anyway to know whether the vaccination is still active? And if so, where can I take her? Thanks

    • Alex Kimechwa

      Dear Simon, how old is your daughter now? I suppose that she did not have a scar, but rather just a wound from the vaccination process. Once the scar has formed, it usually is permanent.

      In regards to the vaccination, quite a number of people do not get a scar mark after vaccination, despite BCG being administered. As per the advice from a paediatrician I know, you could have your baby vaccinated again and then he/she must have developed immunity…even if the scar doesn’t show after this second exercise.

      However, you could also visit your paediatrician for more information.

    • Alex Kimechwa

      Dear Milly, it can be and you can do that just to be safe that your baby bears the immunity. This is a standard practise in many countries. However, he/she may have already developed it…even without the scar forming.

  3. Evans

    The age’s of BCG administration is very crucial, to be stressed upon. Your child really needs the vaccine more esp below 2 years. And since we wish to eliminate TB in the under five year olds, the vaccine can be administered to all those who missed the vaccine on the 1st contact with the child.

    wish this can be understood, I have haerd 17 year old still called ‘baby’, just but a caution.

  4. Victoria Danbaba

    When my son now three was given this vaccination, the needle tore through his skin an spilled the drug out.

    Do l take him back to the hospital to repeat this immunization?

    Please help, my husband has spinal TB and I am worried.

    • Alex Kimechwa

      Dear Victoria, my apologies for responding late to your comment. Have you received any help from a medical professional? If not, kindly visit your nearest health facility where the child can be tested for TB. In the event that he doesn’t have active TB in his body, your healthcare provider should provide a preventive medication for your son called Isoniazid Preventive Therapy (IPT). Urgently visit your nearest hospital for further evaluation and advice.


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