Selective or universal neonatal BCG immunization: What policy for a district with a high incidence of tuberculosis?

P. D.P. Pharoah*, J. M. Watson, S. Sen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


In the United Kingdom, BCG immunization of neonates provides good protection against military and meningeal disease, and probably against other forms of tuberculosis, in all ethnic groups. Serious adverse reactions to BCG immunization are rare. Cost-effectiveness studies of BCG immunization in neonates have not been reported, and 'universal' BCG immunization is not recommended in the United Kingdom. The Department of Health does recommend immunization for children and infants of immigrants from countries with a high prevalence of tuberculosis. There are problems associated with such a 'selective' policy, as determining what is 'high' prevalence and thus defining 'at risk' groups is difficult, and there may be political and practical difficulties in its implementation. This may result in low coverage in eligible groups. A 'universal' policy of BCG immunization for all neonates may be politically more acceptable and easier to implement in districts with high tuberculosis notification rates. Although there is no cost-effectiveness data to determine at what tuberculosis notification rate a universal policy should be adopted, an universal policy has been suggested for districts with overall notification rate of greater than 40 per 100,000. Within districts there may be large variations in tuberculosis notification rates between different areas. This is becoming more common with the amalgamation and merger of smaller districts into new larger purchasing organizations. New River Health Authority is such a district formed by the amalgamation of the former districts of Haringey with a high tuberculosis notification rate, and Enfield with a lower TB notification rate. In order to maximize coverage in the 'at risk' neonates, a different neonatal BCG policy has been adopted in the two areas. This has been possible because of the flexibility of the mechanisms for contracting with different provider units. Although the overall notification rate was not thought to be sufficiently high to justify a 'universal' neonatal policy throughout the district, a 'universal' policy has been instituted in the main provider unit in the former district Haringey. A 'selective' policy, subject to ongoing evaluation to ensure high coverage, continues to be operated by the main provider unit in the former district of Enfield.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)179-183
Number of pages5
JournalPublic Health
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 1996


  • Bacillus Camette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine
  • Incidences rates
  • Neonates
  • Selective immunization
  • Tuberculosis
  • Universal immunization


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