BCG or Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, has been around for about 80 years. It has a protective effect against meningitis and disseminated TB in children.
However, BCG does not prevent primary infection and reactive bacillary spread of TB in the community, according to the World Health Organisation. DA spokesperson on health, Dr Wilmot James, recently wrote to health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, asking him to explain why the country ran out of BCG. He also sought clarity that this would never happen again.
But on Tuesday, department spokesperson Joe Maila confirmed that 166 000 phials, translating into 3320 000 doses, had been ordered from a company in India. James named the company as The Serum Institute of India.
“As soon as the consignment is received we will make a public announcement to call upon parents of children who might have missed BCG vaccine to come to health facilities for vaccination,” said Maila.
“Our interest is to make sure our children are vaccinated.” There is a list of children who did not receive the vaccine, and as soon as the consignment arrives, parents must take their babies for vaccination as it is important that they receive it, he added. The South African Medical Association (Sama) believed that with between a million and 1.2 million babies born in South Africa each year, the batches arriving in the country were not nearly enough.
“It is a concern but it’s not a concern that is unique to us. It is a global problem affecting private and public hospitals,” Sama’s Dr Gary Reubenson said. He added that “smallish batches” are arriving being approved by the Medicines Control Council – but it was not sufficient.
“In South Africa we have between 1 million and 1.2 million kids born every year and that is not enough to meet the needs.”
The recent consignment to arrive will only equate to less than one day’s work, he added. Meanwhile, serious efforts worldwide were being made to find better vaccines as BCG was not the most effective. In fact, if administered, it reduces TB infection by half, said Reubenson.
“The main thing is it prevents severe forms of childhood TB – TB that affects the brain and spreads in the body, but not in the lungs.” Children are normally administered the vaccine at birth or before they leave hospital, but have up to a year to receive it.
“People need to be reassured that serious efforts are being made and this shortage is not uniquely South African. Some people think someone didn’t order the vaccine but this is not an example of that.
“Remember if babies haven’t received BCG go to the clinic – remember to ask whether its available. And if It’s not scheduled, don’t panic – the source of severe forms of TB are not common.
“For those babies born to an HIV-infected mother and who have HIV infection, please ensure they are on the ARVS – it adds further value to the prevention of TB.”