Bacille de Calmette-Guérin, or BCG Vaccine for Tuberculosis


The BCG, an early TB vaccine, aimed to treat tuberculosis by using an weakened strain of bovine tuberculosis. Lux writes how the controversial drug was implemented in Indigenous communities stricken with tuberculosis, despite being aware of the risks that it could infect healthy children with TB. Lux's article gives a short history of the controversial BCG vaccine's use, the illnesses and deaths associated with the vaccine, and how Indigenous communities were directly targeted because health care practitioners and government agencies viewed them as "poor," "less evolved," and "primitive." Medical experimentation on children is a direct violation of the Nuremberg Code, which was implemented internationally in 1946. BCG vaccinations in Indigenous communities have persisted since this time, despite evidence that BCG can cause detrimental and dangerous health outcomes. 

"Would BCG, prepared from a strain of the attenuated (weakened) live bovine tuberculosis, regain its virulence? In 1930 in Lubeck, Germany 249 infants were given oral doses of BCG and within months 71 were dead. The Lubeck disaster shook confidence in BCG even after an investigation determined that the vaccine had been contaminated with live tuberculosis bacillus. In 1933 Ferguson, funded by Indian Affairs and the National Research Council, began an experimental vaccine trial on local Aboriginal infants. His twelve-year study was an apparent success: only six of the 306 children in the vaccinated group developed tuberculosis and two died; while 29 of the 303 in the control group developed tuberculosis and nine died. But Ferguson’s research also revealed that 77 of the 609 children in the trial, or more than 12 percent, died before their first birthday, while only four of these were tuberculosis deaths (two in each of the vaccinated and control groups.) In all, nearly one-fifth of the children in the trial died from other diseases, mostly gastroenteritis and pneumonia. Poverty posed the greatest threat to children, but unlike tuberculosis, it did not spread to white communities. BCG lived up to its promise to control tuberculosis while leaving untouched the socio-economic conditions that led to its rise."

Access the Article


Publication Information

Lux, Maureen. "Bacille de Calmette-Guérin, or BCG Vaccine for Tuberculosis." Active History, March 31, 2015.

Lux, Maureen
Publication Date
Primary Resource
Resource Type