The vaccine for tuberculosis (TB) is known as BCG (bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine. BCG vaccine contains a weakened form of the bacteria (germ) that cause TB. Because it is weakened it doesn't cause TB in healthy people but it helps develop some protection (immunity) against TB.
BCG works best in babies and young children and is particularly effective at preventing severe forms of TB including TB meningitis with greater than 70% protection.
Only a single vaccination is required - extra doses are not recommended.
Who needs the vaccination?
Most Australian children do not require BCG vaccination as the rates of TB in Australia are very low.
In Queensland, BCG vaccination is recommended for the following groups:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander newborn babies
- Children aged less than 5 years who will live in Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities for a period of 3 months or more.
- Children aged less than 5 years who will be travelling to TB high risk countries for a period of 3 months or more. If the intended length of stay is less than 3 months but the risk of exposure to TB may be high, the need for BCG vaccination should be discussed with a TB doctor.
BCG can also help prevent leprosy (Hansen's Disease). BCG vaccination is recommended for newborn babies of parents with leprosy or with a family history of leprosy. Leprosy is very rare in Australia.
Older children and adults
Depending on the risk of acquiring TB, there may be benefits to vaccinating older children. A doctor experienced in the use of BCG can help decide if the vaccination will be useful.
In general, BCG is NOT given to adults but can be considered for healthcare workers who are likely to deal with large numbers of multi-drug resistant TB cases.
More information about BCG vaccine can be found in the patient fact sheet.
In Queensland, the BCG vaccine is generally only administered by TB services and is free of charge.
If your newborn baby needs the BCG vaccination, the hospital will usually inform the local TB service and you will be contacted with an appointment. If you have not heard from a clinic within 1 month after your baby's birth, or if you have any questions about BCG vaccination, contact your nearest TB service.
BCG vaccine availability
Since 2012, there have been periodic interruptions to the supply of BCG in Australia.
If a registered BCG vaccine is not available, you may still be able to receive a vaccine that has not been registered in Australia but is in use in other countries. If this is the case, an informed decision about the vaccine available should be made in consultation with the TB doctor.
When there is no BCG vaccine available, TB services will maintain waiting lists for babies and children eligible for BCG vaccination and they will be prioritised according to need when the vaccine becomes available.
If travel to a TB high risk country occurs while you are waiting for BCG to become available, a health check and a tuberculin skin test for TB may be recommended for your child, 2 - 3 months after you return to Australia. Contact your local TB service or general practitioner (GP) to discuss.
Alternatively, BCG vaccination may be available in the country of destination. If this option is taken, vaccination should occur soon after arrival.
Patient fact sheets
Translated fact sheets are available for the following languages:
- Tok Pisin
Contact your nearest TB service