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BCG and The Union a 100-year history

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On 18 July 1921, at the Hôpital de la Charité in Paris, a newborn baby received a dose of an experimental vaccine called Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG). This young child was the first human to receive the BCG vaccine.

Its development was an extraordinary achievement of innovation and careful research by Albert Calmette and Camille Guérin.

Calmette and Guérin have strong connections to The Union. The year before the vaccine was developed, Calmette presided over the first congress of the International Union against Tuberculosis held in Paris. Then in 1960, Guérin was elected as an Honorary Member of the International Union against Tuberculosis.

Fast forward 100 years and it is the most widely used vaccine globally – billions of children have been vaccinated and countless children’s lives have been saved worldwide.

The BCG vaccine is most effective in preventing severe forms of disseminated tuberculosis (TB) in children, but its acceptance into widespread use took many years. It is now recommended as part of the expanded programme of immunisation as a neonatal vaccine in countries with a high burden of TB.

Unfortunately, it is ineffective at preventing TB in adults and older children, particularly, the common and infectious form – pulmonary TB.

The BCG is still the only licensed TB vaccine. Therefore, new vaccines and better use of the BCG are essential to achieve TB elimination.

There is an ongoing body of research on developing improvements to the BCG vaccine either by modifying the vaccine or the target population.

Other researchers are working on new vaccines and there are some promising candidates being developed and tested, such as the M72/AS01E vaccine whose final efficacy results were presented at the second TBScience conference. However, greater investment into TB vaccine research and development is required from governments and donor agencies.


Be sure to read the latest International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease editorial by Paulo Bettencourt from Universidade Católica Portuguesa, titled ‘The 100th anniversary of Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) and the latest vaccines against COVID-19’.

Please join us at the 52nd Union World Conference on Lung Health being from 19 to 22 October 2021, where TBScience will have a full day focusing on the theme of ‘TB vaccines: Aspiring is not enough!’