Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 16 Jul 2020

The bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine is the only vaccine available for Mycobacterium tuberculosis and despite its global use for 90 years, with proven efficacy and a good safety record, has well-known limitations. It provides only limited protection against pulmonary tuberculosis.

The vaccine comprises a live attenuated strain of Mycobacterium bovis, which lacks any intrinsic virulence.

It also has an important role in the immunotherapy of early stage bladder carcinoma 5.

History and etymology

The Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine was researched for more than ten years by two French bacteriologists before entering clinical use. The scientists were Leon Charles Albert Calmette (1863-1933), in Nice, France, and Camille Guérin (1872-1961), working at the Pasteur Institute 1-4.

Initial trials of their vaccine in cattle in 1924 were a success. Tragically in December 1929, a large trial of 251 neonates with the new vaccine at Lubeck General Hospital in Germany, resulted in 72 deaths due to inadvertent contamination of the vaccine with a live virulent strain during manufacture of the inoculum. This has become known as the Lubeck disaster and was unsurprisingly a major international health scandal at the time 6. Nevertheless, the vaccine was successfully introduced in 1930, initially in France and Norway. Although it was not licensed for regular use in the UK until 1946 3.

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