Expat to Expat Advice–The Tuberculosis Vaccination

I’m so stridently, vocally pro-vaccine that it pains me to write this post.

But there is a teeny tiny part of me that questions whether I should have allowed Rhiannon to receive the tuberculosis vaccination and is not looking forward to Elanor’s appointment in January to receive the BCG vaccination for tuberculosis.

In the pro-vax column, South East Asia account for 1/3 of all tuberculosis infections, according to the WHO.  It is an airborne, highly contagious and potentially lethal disease.  There is a reason that it is a standard vaccination at birth here.  We do plan to travel in the region and I do want the girls to have the best possible protection.

In the con column, while I knew that the vaccination created a permanent scar (not unlike a smallpox vaccination scar), I had no idea that it would still be red and scabby eight weeks out.  Recently Rhiannon has also developed swollen lymph nodes in her pelvis on the same side as the vaccination was given.  When I showed our pediatrician scar and the lymph node at Rhiannon’s 2 month well baby visit, I was told this was normal.  Internet research confirmed that it’s a normal reaction and said that the effects can last weeks or months.

injection site, 8 weeks later

While no one likes a vaccination, it’s one thing to have the a short term reaction (Ellie is currently running a fever, thanks to her MMR/Varicella booster, but that will stop in 72 hours at most) and another to have a long term one.  I just wish that the pedi who gave it to Rhiannon had walked me through how this vaccination reaction would be different than what I was used to.  As he is Singaporean, he might not have remembered that it’s not a common vaccination in the US and that I wouldn’t know what to expect.

This is where my ounce of ambivalence is coming from on a topic where I am normally not in the least conflicted…I hate seeing my teeny baby STILL dealing with the effects of the vax 2 months out.  On the plus side (and why my conflict is a fairly small one–again, see airborne, contagious, lethal) she doesn’t seem affected by it.  She isn’t in pain, even when I touch the swollen nodes to clean it during a diaper change.  It’s mostly in my head.

In the end, I come down pro-vaccination (again TB is airborne, it’s highly contagious, and it can be lethal) but make sure you talk to your pediatrician/doctor at length about what a normal reaction is and what an abnormal one looks like.  Don’t forget to protect yourself as well as your kids.  Also worth noting–there were over 1400 cases of Tuberculosis in Singapore last year (2010).

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11 Responses to Expat to Expat Advice–The Tuberculosis Vaccination

  1. Claire says:

    In the UK they have a vaccination programme in school when you are around 13 so you have the BCG. I have a teeny scar on my left arm from it but figure it’s a small price to pay for immunity against a horrible disease. I do remember some people having some painful looking reactions (thank god I was at a girls school as no doubt boys would’ve punched your arm!) but they passed. I guess it must be different seeing that reaction on such a tiny person but as yiu say she doesnt appear to have any discomfort then the protection that it offers is worth it I think.

    • Crystal says:

      Absolutely…I do come down pro vax…I’m just a bit thrown by how prolonged the reaction is (and by my doctor saying things like “we’ll monitor this and if necessary, drain the gland”)

      Is there a reason they wait until middle school to do the vax in the UK? I’m curious because (a) it’s not given in the US and (b) I’m curious as to the logic of when to give it in a given country. Given the number of cases in SE Asia, I absolutely get that it’s given at birth here.

      • Claire says:

        I didn’t know so I looked on Wikipedia 🙂

        Apparently they give it in adolescence as that is when the highest incidence is, statistically. But according to that page, they actually stopped doing the school immunisation in 2005, as the incidence has fallen so low, its almost not worth doing it.

        There is some crazy stat which says you’d have to immunise 12,000 children to prevent one case of TB.

      • Crystal says:

        It’s not done at all in the US, so I had zero point of reference for this. Did you get one as a teen?

  2. Kirsten says:

    I still have my BCG scar… I was worried before that it would be big and ugly like some other’s, but it’s not too bad.

  3. bookjunkie says:

    in my fourties..it’s almost completely faded (didn’t even think about it till now…and just checked my arm)…but it was quite bad when I first got it….the BCG injection on our upper arms when we were 12 years old. It used to be huge raised red bump. But some girls has it even worse. So mine was mild in comparison.

  4. Kirsten says:

    The year after I got my BCG, the government said that primary school students didn’t need to have that injection anymore… so perhaps they don’t do the booster shot these days.

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