BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine injects a « weakened form » of the bacteria that causes TB into your baby so that they can develop immunity against it. It’s scary to know that your baby is being injected with a serious bacteria. Even though doctors have years’ experience and that the vaccine had been given out for years, it does not stop parents from worrying that something might go wrong. In my case, it was BCG blister.
Which babies get the BCG vaccine in the UK
In the UK, this vaccine is offered to babies born to parents who are originally from regions where TB is prevalent, such as Sub Saharan Africa and Asia. It is also offered to all babies, irrespective of parents’ origins, who live in areas with a large number of people with these origins. So, for instance, if you live in the London Boroughs of Hackney or Tower Hamlets, you will be advised to get your baby vaccinated (BCG) even if you are white English. This is because these Boroughs have a high percentage of ethnic minority groups from TB prevalent regions.
How to help your baby before and after the BCG vaccine
With BCG being a scary vaccine for some parents, it’s crucial that they get all the necessary pre and post-vaccination information. My baby got her vaccine when she was one month and two weeks old. This was the first time I went alone with her for the vaccine. I almost cried a week before when she got the 1st primary vaccinations, even though her dad was the one carrying her. Her high pitched cry was louder than any other cry I’d heard from her.
I was dreading the BCG vaccine day. I hate needles myself, but knew that it had to be done. One tip that may help new parents is to overcome your own fear at that moment because your baby will sense it, and it will make the whole experience even more frightening and painful for her/him. Plus, it helps you stay in control throughout the process. So, I held my baby as strongly as I could, looked away, and thought of something positive. It only lasted a few seconds, she cried but was ok shortly after. Milk is usually a great way to calm babies down after immunisation, so remember to have it ready.
The common, expected BCG side effects
The doctor did explain to me what the vaccine was about before administering it to my little one. He also said my daughter might get a fever in the next 48 hours. He also explained that within two to six weeks a spot will appear where she received the vaccine, and that this was a sign that it was working. That was all. My baby did not have any fever that night or the day after.
BCG blister, the unexpected side effect I was unprepared for…
It was only weeks later that I saw the spot appearing on my daughter’s arm. There was nothing to worry about as the doctor mentioned it. However, what happened next was unexpected. It is what I wished my doctor had told me about BCG vaccine. A month and a half later, the spot was looking more and more like a blister ready to pop (see pictures below). I could see that it was sore and made my daughter uncomfortable. But, I didn’t know what to do. So I did what most mothers would do, I started to worry.
Eventually the blister did burst, while she was asleep. The moment she woke up, I cleaned it up, thinking that the fluids will all come out at once. They kept coming out, I started to worry even more because I still didn’t know what to do. I thought that maybe I should dress it, and that seemed logical. My hubby went as far as to suggest that we use a disinfectant. This is what happens when you don’t have the right information, you guess. I checked NHS sites and online forums, but they covered and discussed other BCG side effects than what my little one was experiencing.
What to do after the BCG blister bursts
In the end, I called my local surgery, and the nurse advised this:
- NOT to dress the spot (especially not with plaster)
- Let it get air
- NEVER use any disinfectant on it
That’s what I did for the next weeks, as my daughter’s BCG blister carried on secreting fluids, including blood. I dressed my little one with short sleeves tops for a prompt healing. Luckily it was just after the summer, and the weather was warmish. The fluids stopped oozing about a couple of weeks later (in September), but it felt like an eternity. As I write this post, my baby is six months and two weeks old, and the scar is still pretty much obvious. I hope that as she grows, it will disappear or at least be less visible.
The BCG vaccine is so far the only vaccine that has had such a long side effect on my baby. I know that doctors are humans and can forget. But I still wish that mine had given me all the key possible BCG side effects information. It would have sparred me going through a lot of the worries, and would have been more efficient for the NHS. If my doctor had spent five more minutes to provide key information, I would have not called my surgery weeks later for further support. The time the nurse spent with me over the phone could have been used on another patient…
I came across this NHS link with useful info (including the side effects that I mention here). It was only published in October 2015, I hope it will help other parents out there who might need more guidance on this vaccine: click this link to read the full NHS guidelines