Don’t panic about shortfall of BCG

MOMS should not get panicky about the current shortage of the BCG vaccine in South Africa, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said last week.

Speaking on behalf of the institute, Professor Gregory Hussey, director of Vaccines for Africa at the University of Cape Town and chairman of the National Advisory Group on Immunisation, said stressed that the vaccine is still effective if received in the first 12 months of the baby’s life.

He said that a separate treatment programme is in place for newborns who are exposed to a person with TB. “Although the global shortage of BCG, particularly over the last year, is of concern, the impact of delayed vaccination of newborns is not as grave as has been portrayed in some media quarters,” he said.

“Over the past three years, there has been a decline in global availability of BCG as a result of reduced manufacturing capacity. This is under review by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund and mechanisms to increase provision of the vaccine, especially to high burden TB countries, are being pursued.

“South Africa had shortages of BCG vaccine recently, but the situation has improved and will likely normalise soon as alternate supply sources of BCG are being procured. Stocks are continuing to become available and are being distributed to public health facilities in the provinces,” he said.

Hussey explained that the neonatal BCG vaccination provides substantial protection against the more severe types of TB and tuberculosis meningitis, to which infants and young children are particularly susceptible.

“The majority of such severe disease occurs in children 1-5 years of age,” he said.

“BCG offers only partial protection against pulmonary TB, the commonest form of TB affecting children and adults in South Africa. A newborn that has not received the BCG dose soon after birth can be given a dose until 12 months of age.”

The risk of a child becoming infected and developing TB before getting the BCG is small, but real, and greatest in infants living in close contact with an adult with untreated TB, he said.

“Infants living in contact with an adult with TB should receive prophylactic medicine, which significantly reduces the risk. There is thus no reason for social isolation of newborns who have not received the BCG vaccine.”

, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said last week.

Speaking on behalf of the institute, Professor Gregory Hussey, director of Vaccines for Africa at the University of Cape Town and chairman of the National Advisory Group on Immunisation, said stressed that the vaccine is still effective if received in the first 12 months of the baby’s life.

He said that a separate treatment programme is in place for newborns who are exposed to a person with TB. “Although the global shortage of BCG, particularly over the last year, is of concern, the impact of delayed vaccination of newborns is not as grave as has been portrayed in some media quarters,” he said.

“Over the past three years, there has been a decline in global availability of BCG as a result of reduced manufacturing capacity. This is under review by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund and mechanisms to increase provision of the vaccine, especially to high burden TB countries, are being pursued.

“South Africa had shortages of BCG vaccine recently, but the situation has improved and will likely normalise soon as alternate supply sources of BCG are being procured. Stocks are continuing to become available and are being distributed to public health facilities in the provinces,” he said.

Hussey explained that the neonatal BCG vaccination provides substantial protection against the more severe types of TB and tuberculosis meningitis, to which infants and young children are particularly susceptible.

“The majority of such severe disease occurs in children 1-5 years of age,” he said.

“BCG offers only partial protection against pulmonary TB, the commonest form of TB affecting children and adults in South Africa. A newborn that has not received the BCG dose soon after birth can be given a dose until 12 months of age.”

The risk of a child becoming infected and developing TB before getting the BCG is small, but real, and greatest in infants living in close contact with an adult with untreated TB, he said.

“Infants living in contact with an adult with TB should receive prophylactic medicine, which significantly reduces the risk. There is thus no reason for social isolation of newborns who have not received the BCG vaccine.”

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