The efficacy of bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccination of newborns and infants in the prevention of tuberculosis: Meta-analyses of the published literature

G. A. Colditz, C. S. Berkey, F. Mosteller, T. F. Brewer, M. E. Wilson, E. Burdick, H. V. Fineberg

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Objective. To quantify the efficacy of vaccination of infants with bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) against tuberculosis. Data sources. MEDLINE with index terms BCG vaccine, tuberculosis, and humans; lists of all known studies provided by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other organizations. Study selection. A total of 1264 articles and abstracts were reviewed for details on BCG vaccination, the availability of concurrent vaccinated and unvaccinated groups, and a tuberculosis outcome. Seventy articles were reviewed in depth for method of vaccine allocation used to create comparable groups, age at vaccination of study participants, comparability of surveillance and follow-up of recipient and concurrent control groups in trials, an appropriately defined control group in case-control studies, and outcome measures (tuberculosis cases and/or deaths). Five prospective trials and eleven case-control studies of vaccination during infancy were included in the present analyses. Data extraction. We recorded study design, age range of study population, number of patients enrolled, efficacy of vaccine, location of the study, and a series of items to assess the potential for bias in study design, follow-up, and diagnosis. We extracted or computed vaccine efficacy by years since vaccination wherever possible. At least two readers independently extracted data and evaluated data validity. Data synthesis. The relative risk (RR) or odds ratio (OR) for tuberculosis in vaccinated versus unvaccinated infants was the measure of vaccine efficacy analyzed. A random- effects method estimated a weighted average RR or OR from data extracted from the trials and case-control studies. The protective effect was then computed by 1 - RR or 1 - OR. Overall, the protective effect of vaccination against cases of tuberculosis was 0.74 (95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.62 to 0.83) when estimated from four randomized controlled trials, and 0.52 (95% CI, 0.38 to 0.64) when estimated from nine case-control studies. Five trials reporting deaths from tuberculosis showed a BCG protective effect of 0.65 (95% CI, 0.12 to 0.86), five studies reporting on meningitis showed a protective effect of 0.64 (95% CI, 0.30 to 0.82), and three studies of disseminated tuberculosis showed a protective effect of 0.78 (95% CI, 0.58 to 0.88). Three case-control studies included separate results for laboratory- confirmed cases of tuberculosis. These studies documented a protective effect of 0.83 (95% CI, 0.58 to 0.93). In a random-effects regression model of the nine case-control studies, study validity score explained 15% of the heterogeneity among study-estimated protective effects, suggesting that better studies reported greater efficacy. Three trials and six case-control studies provided some age-specific information that allowed us to examine the duration of BCG efficacy. Most of this evidence suggested that BCG efficacy may persist through 10 years after infant vaccination. Conclusion. BCG vaccination of newborns and infants significantly reduces the risk of tuberculosis-by over 50%, on average. Protection has been observed across many populations, study designs, and forms of tuberculosis. Rates of protection against cases that are confirmed by laboratory tests, reflecting reduced error in disease classification and consequently more accurate estimates of BCG efficacy, are highest at 83%.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-35
Number of pages7
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Jul 27 1995


  • bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccination
  • infants
  • meta-analysis
  • tuberculosis


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