What to expect following BCG vaccination

Recruitment ended in March 2021 for this multi-centre randomised controlled clinical trial of the BCG vaccine against COVID-19.

Half of the healthcare workers received the BCG vaccine to test whether it can protect those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from developing severe symptoms by boosting their frontline immunity. The below information was provided at recruitment:

What to expect following the BCG vaccination

  • The BCG vaccination is given just under the skin (into the ‘intradermal’ layer) of the left upper arm 
  • The usual expected reaction to BCG vaccination is redness and/or a small ‘papule’ (a pimple or lump) at the injection site that appears weeks to months after vaccination 
  • A few weeks later, the papule usually softens and breaks down to a small ulcer (an open sore - usually less than 15 mm in diameter) 
  • The ulcer may last from weeks to months 
  • Once the ulcer has healed, this usually (but not always) leaves a small flat scar 

Caring for the injection site 

  • Keep the area clean and dry 
  • Normal bathing is acceptable—pat dry after washing 
  • A temporary dry dressing with gauze may be used if the area oozes 
  • A sterile alcohol swab may clean the area if required 
  • Do not apply ointment, antiseptic creams, sticking plaster or band aids 
  • Do not squeeze any pus out of the papule or ulcer that develops 

Rare complications following BCG vaccine

  • A large abscess (collection of pus) at the injection site 
  • Infection of the glands in the left armpit (‘axillary lymph nodes’) causing tenderness and swelling under the arm ‘Keloid’ scarring (very noticeable scarring on the skin) 
  • Severe immediate allergic reaction (very rare), please stay on the hospital grounds for the next 20mins 

When to seek medical advice 

  • If you notice any severe or rare reactions, such as a large persistent discharging abscess at the injection site.
  • If you notice swelling or tenderness of the glands (‘lymph nodes’) in the left armpit.

How to take the best picture of your vaccination site

  • Attach a standard-sized object to your upper arm (e.g. coin, or beer bottle cap) using rolled up sticky tape or BluTack, next to the vaccination site.
  • You can also place a ruler or a measuring tape next to the vaccination site.
  • Hold your phone approx. 15 cm away from the area being photographed.
  • Ensure the entire injection site and coin are in the photo and in focus.

Who to contact for advice

Contact us or your General Practitioner.

Contact us

The BRACE trial
Murdoch Children's Research Institute
The Royal Children's Hospital
50 Flemington Road
Parkville VIC 3052

Ph: 0409 846 988

Professor Nigel Curtis

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