Tuberculosis (BCG) vaccine

The BCG vaccine is free for children under 5 years of age who have a higher risk of catching TB.

What it protects you from

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infectious disease. It can remain inactive for many years before becoming active. It usually affects the lungs but can affect any organ in the body. TB is spread through coughing and sneezing.

Pēpi (babies), young children, and children with weakened immune systems are at highest risk of developing the most severe forms of TB such as meningitis.

More about tuberculosis (TB) – IMAC

When it’s given

The TB vaccine is given to children under 5 years old who have a higher risk of catching TB.

Pēpi (babies) under 6 months old

TB vaccinations are mainly given to newborn babies at high risk. This includes pēpi:

  • living with someone who has TB or has a history of TB
  • who are going to be living for 3 months or longer in a country with a high TB rate
  • whose parents, household members, or carers, within the last 5 years, lived for 6 months or longer in a country with a high TB rate.

Your midwife, doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider will advise if your pēpi is at higher risk of catching TB.

Ages 6 months to 5 years old

If your tamariki meets the above criteria, and they’re over 6 months old, they will need a special skin test or blood test to see if they need to have the TB vaccine.

Which vaccine is used

The TB vaccine used in New Zealand is the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) Vaccine.

Your tamariki will be given 1 dose. It’s given just under the skin in the upper-arm, rather than into the muscle like other vaccines.

Information about the BCG vaccine – Medsafe (PDF)

Side effects and reactions

Like most medicines, vaccines can sometimes cause reactions. These are usually mild, and not everyone will get them.

Mild reactions are normal and show that your child’s immune system is responding to the vaccine.

If your tamariki is going to have any reactions, they normally happen in the first few days after getting vaccinated. The vaccine itself is gone from your child's body within a few hours or days.

The most common reaction to an immunisation includes:

  • a slight fever
  • pain or swelling where the needle went in.

Expected reaction

A normal reaction of the TB vaccine is a small red blister that appears where the injection was given 1 to 6 weeks after the immunisation.

Follow the advice given by your vaccinator on how to look after the injection site.

BCG vaccine after care for parents – HealthEd

Serious side effects are rare

Serious side effects are rare. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.

Call 111 if you’re worried your child is having a serious reaction.

How to treat common reactions

Allergic reactions

Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 1 million people will experience this.

Your vaccinator is well-trained and knows what to look for and can treat an allergic reaction quickly if it happens.

Serious allergic reactions normally happen within the first few minutes of vaccination. This is why your tamariki need to wait for up to 20 minutes after immunisation.

Page last updated: 12 May 2023