Maternal BCG primes for enhanced health benefits in the newborn

Frederik Schaltz-Buchholzer*, Christian Bjerregård Øland, Mike Berendsen, Morten Bjerregaard-Andersen, Elise Brenno Stjernholm, Christian N Golding, Ivan Monteiro, Peter Aaby, Christine Stabell Benn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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OBJECTIVES: Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination lowers the risk of severe infection; we tested whether effects are modulated by maternal BCG in a large cohort of BCG-vaccinated newborns from Guinea-Bissau.

METHODS: Maternal BCG scar status were inspected at enrolment in a BCG trial conducted from 2014 to 17 in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau. We tested associations with background factors for potential confounding; maternal age affected effect estimates >5% and accordingly, all analyses were adjusted for maternal age. Hospitalization data was collected prospectively and assessed in Cox-models providing adjusted Incidence Rate Ratios (aIRRs). In-hospital risk of death (case-fatality) risk was assessed using binomial regression providing adjusted Risk Ratios (aRRs).

RESULTS: 60% (6,309/10,598) of mothers had a scar. The maternal-scar/no-scar admission aIRR was 0.96 (0.81-1.14) from 0 to 6 weeks and 1.12 (0.97-1.28) for 6 weeks-3 years. The 6-week in-hospital case-fatality infection aRR was 0.59 (0.34-1.05); 0.40 (0.17-0.91) for males and 0.86 (0.38-1.94) for females. Protection was especially evident against sepsis, the overall 6-week aRR=0.49 (0.26-0.91); no effect was observed for non-infectious deaths or after 6 weeks of age. Effects were similar across BCG strains and multivariate models adjusted for socioeconomic status did not affect estimates.

CONCLUSION: Among BCG-vaccinated newborns, there was a trend for fewer in-hospital deaths from infection associated with maternal BCG priming, especially for males. Providing BCG to adults without a vaccination scar might enhance their offspring's capacity to handle severe infections. Brief 40-word summary: Within a trial comparing BCG strains for their overall effects on morbidity and mortality in Guinea-Bissau, vertical priming with BCG (represented by the maternal BCG scar) was associated with beneficial sex-differential effects on offspring survival.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Infection
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)321-328
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG)
  • Early-life morbidity and mortality
  • Live-vaccines
  • Maternal BCG priming
  • Non-specific effects of vaccines
  • Vertical priming


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