All You Need To Know About Getting The BCG Vaccine In London
Between 2011 and 2019, tuberculosis in the UK dropped steadily. Unfortunately, since then cases have been on the increase – and London now has the highest number of cases in England.
But, the BCG vaccine protects you against tuberculosis. And there are certain groups who will benefit from protecting themselves with the vaccine. If you’re in one of the at risk groups, which we’ll explain later on in this article, and you’re looking to book your BCG vaccine in London, we can help. We’re about to share all you need to know about tuberculosis and the BCG vaccine.
What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis, also known as TB, is a bacterial infection – a serious and potentially life threatening disease that tends to affect the lungs. TB can also wreak havoc on the brain, bones, spine, joints and kidneys. It was endemic in the UK around two hundred years ago when 1 in 4 deaths in this country were as a result of this disease. Those who did survive were often left with permanent damage to their lungs.
Thankfully, tuberculosis is preventable.
There are two types of tuberculosis. The first is known as Latent tuberculosis. At this point you have no symptoms and you’re not contagious. The bacteria is alive in your body but it is not active.
The second type of tuberculosis is known as Active TB. You are now contagious as the germs are multiplying and making you unwell. Symptoms of the disease will be evident.
What is the BCG vaccine?
The BCG (Bacillus Calmette-Guérin) vaccine protects against tuberculosis and is a weakened (attenuated) dose of live bacteria. It is a once in a lifetime vaccination, which means once you’ve been given a single shot, you are protected for life.
The BCG vaccine is one of the most widely used vaccines and has been used to protect against TB for more than 80 years. BCG has a reputation for being up to 80% effective in protecting against the most severe forms of TB, such as meningitis.
How does the BCG vaccine prevent tuberculosis?
As with all vaccines, its purpose is to prompt the body into responding to the dose in pretty much the same way it would to the actual disease. The body fights off the weakened dose of disease and creates a ‘memory’ of it. This ‘memory’ enables the body to protect itself from the bacterias that cause TB, if it encounters them again.
In the days after the vaccination there may be some side-effects as the body fights the injected dose but these symptoms are not the virus itself taking hold.
Importance of the BCG vaccine in fighting tuberculosis
While TB is a preventable and curable disease, 1.6 million people died from it in 2021. It’s the second most infectious killer globally and the 13th leading cause of death around the world. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 10 million people contracted tuberculosis in the same year. It is also noted that more than 66 million lives were saved through TB diagnosis and prevention – highlighting the importance of this vaccine in the effort to reduce tuberculosis around the world.
Who should get the BCG vaccine?
The BCG vaccine is not part of the UK’s childhood immunisation programme – this means that children are not routinely vaccinated against tuberculosis. It will only be offered to babies, children and adults if it is thought that they are at an increased risk of contracting the disease.
BCG vaccines for newborns
Your baby is considered at a higher risk of contracting tuberculosis if:
- they live with, or in close contact with someone who has been infected with TB
- have a parent or grandparent who was born in a location where TB is prevalent
- are born in areas where there are high rates of TB.
If your child meets any of the above criteria, they will usually be inoculated when they’re around a month old. We advise you to share your concerns with a health professional before your baby is born if you believe they may be at risk. Your midwife will complete a referral and this will be seen by the BCG Coordinator. The referral will be triaged by the Coordinator and arrangements made for a vaccination, if it is deemed necessary.
Children between 16 years old and younger
According to the NHS, children who meet the following criteria might be offered the vaccine:
- whose parents or close relations have contracted TB
- whose relations were born in a country where TB is prevalent
- those staying with people who live in countries where TB rates are high.
Travellers of all ages may need to vaccinate prior to a holiday if they’re visiting areas where TB is endemic. If you’re planning on spending three weeks or more in such a place, or staying with locals who may have been previously exposed to the virus, a vaccine is an important precaution. Tuberculosis can lay dormant (latent) for several weeks so you may not experience any of the symptoms associated with the virus while you are away. It may be that you only start to experience the side-effects once you return to the UK if you are not vaccinated.
Locations that are currently classed as high risk are:
- parts of central America
- the Indian subcontinent
- parts of south and southeast Asia
- parts of the middle east.
A full and comprehensive list of countries with high rates of tuberculosis can be found here.
At risk populations
Young children and travellers are not the only populations that are at risk from TB. Adults living in the UK and working in certain professions can also find themselves vulnerable to exposure to TB. Those who work in healthcare should consider vaccination, as should veterinary staff and abattoir workers. You may also want to consider enquiring about a BCG vaccine if you work in prisons, hostels for homeless people or in facilities for asylum seekers and refugees.
As well as those who work in professions that naturally put them at risk, you are more vulnerable if you are:
- taking drugs that lower your immune system (chemotherapy, IV arthritis drugs or steroids
- HIV positive
- your body is weakened by another disease such as cancer or diabetes
- you’re elderly
- you’ve been infected with TB in the last two years.
What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is spread through the tiny droplets that are projected into the atmosphere when an infected person coughs or sneezes. In many healthy people, the immune system will fight off infection but in others the bacteria will spread to the lungs. This may occur several weeks after the initial infection takes place.
Symptoms of tuberculosis include:
- persistent cough that lasts for more than three weeks
- loss of appetite
- new swellings that haven’t subsided after a few weeks
- weight loss
- night sweats
- high temperature
- tiredness and fatigue.
If you’ve been to a country where the incidence is high or know you have been in close contact with someone who has been exposed to the disease, call your GP or 111.
How is the BCG vaccination administered?
The BCG vaccine is administered via an injection into the arm of the patient. A small scar will often remain at the injection site. The BCG is a single dose vaccine and you will not need a repeat dose in the future.
If you are being vaccinated for travel purposes, you should aim to get your vaccine at least two weeks before travelling – this allows your body to develop immunity.
What are the BCG vaccine side effects?
According to the NHS, BCG vaccine side effects are generally mild and short lived. These symptoms may include:
- soreness at the injection site
- swollen glands
- tiredness and fatigue
Some people may experience more severe side effects, including:
- bone inflammation.
In some instances, patients have suffered an anaphylactic reaction. Such reactions usually occur soon after the vaccine has been administered.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, we advise that you dial 999 immediately. :
- a feeling of lightheadedness
- fast heartbeat
- clammy skin
- confusion or anxiety
- breathing difficulties
- hives or swelling
- feeling sick.
Most patients will notice that the injection site feels quite hard to touch in the days after the vaccine has been administered. Do not worry about this, it’s completely normal and to be expected. Most people will also notice that in the weeks after being vaccinated, the site crusts over and then leaves a small scar. This is also a completely normal BCG vaccine side-effect, and is no cause for concern.
Are BCG vaccinations in London in short supply?
BCG vaccines are currently in short supply around the world and it is anticipated that this shortfall will continue in future years. However, at the London Vaccination Clinic we pride ourselves on being one step ahead of the game. We’re pleased to say that we have a healthy supply.
So, if you’re looking for advice on the BCG vaccine in London, or know you’re in one of the vulnerable groups, please do book an appointment. We’ve got the vaccine in stock and waiting for you. And the cost of our BCG vaccine is highly competitive at £80 too – you won’t find the cost of the BCG vaccine cheaper.
Where can I get vaccinated?
BCG vaccinations will usually be offered to you through your health clinic, hospital and sometimes a GP practice. You will need to make an appointment to speak to a clinician. BCG vaccinations are not routine in the UK so you will only be offered inoculation if you’re deemed to be vulnerable.
If you’re concerned about tuberculosis and feel that you may be one of the vulnerable populations, we can help.
The thought of being vulnerable to TB may be frightening – or you may be confused as to whether you need a vaccine for travel or work purposes. We understand vaccines better than anyone else, after all it’s what we do. We have three easily accessible clinics spread out across the capital and they all offer same day appointments. You can call us and book a consultation where you’ll speak to one of our lovely nurses. They’ll take you through a detailed assessment to find out whether a vaccine would be beneficial. They will also answer any questions you may have and allay any fears or anxieties.
Because we offer same day appointments, we’re perfect for the spontaneous traveller – and those of you who’ve realised that your profession puts you at risk. If you’re expecting visitors from overseas or those who’ve been in contact with infected people, we can get you inoculated quickly and easily. Why delay?
Book with us today
Need advice on the BCG vaccine or want to book a vaccination appointment? It’s simple.
Wanting a question answered?
Call us on 020 7112 5198.
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