Commemorating a century since the arrival of the BCG vaccine

The vaccine has proved its worth over the past 100 years in the fight against TB in children.


On July 18th, 1921, at the Hôpital de la Charité in Paris, a new-born whose mother had died of tuberculosis (TB) that morning received a dose of an experimental vaccine called Bacille Calmette Guérin (BCG), named after creators, Albert Calmette and Camille Guerin. This infant would be the first human to receive the vaccine which would continue to be used a 100 years later by billions of people around the world, saving tens of millions of lives. Even now, BCG is still the only vaccine approved for humans to date that protects against TB, a bacterial disease that affects the lungs. South Africa has one of the most severe epidemics of TB globally with approximately 400,000 cases reported per year.


BCG is primarily used to protect children from the disease and is offered to infants in parts of the world where there is a high incidence. It protects 86% of the time from some rare forms of TB that are more common in children. It holds some form of protection in adults however it is notably poor at only about 50%. The vaccine invented at the Institut Pasteur de Lille posed a formidable challenge for its French inventors who conducted 230 attempts to attenuate the bovine tuberculosis bacillus from 1908 to 1921. The process of attenuation for this revolutionary vaccine thankfully survived the first world war before it became ready for use in humans.