Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Santa Barbara

UC Santa Barbara Previously Published Works bannerUC Santa Barbara

BCG vaccination in infancy does not protect against COVID-19. Evidence from a natural experiment in Sweden



The bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine has immunity benefits against respiratory infections. Accordingly, it has been hypothesized to have a protective effect against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Recent research found that countries with universal BCG childhood vaccination policies tend to be less affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, such ecological studies are biased by numerous confounders. Instead, this paper reports on a rare nationwide natural experiment that occurred in Sweden in 1975, where discontinuation of newborns' BCG vaccination led to a dramatic decrease in BCG coverage rate, thus allowing us to estimate BCG's effect without the biases associated with cross-country comparisons.


Numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were recorded for birth cohorts born just before and just after 1975, representing 1 026 304 and 1 018 544 individuals, respectively. We used regression discontinuity to assess the effect of BCG vaccination on COVID-19-related outcomes. On such a large population, this method allows for a precision that would be hard to achieve using a randomized controlled trial.


The odds ratios (95% CI) for COVID-19 cases and COVID-19-related hospitalizations were 1.0005 (.8130-1.1881) and 1.2046 (.7532-1.6560), allowing us to reject fairly modest effects of universal BCG vaccination. We can reject with 95% confidence that universal BCG vaccination reduces the number of cases by 19% and the number of hospitalizations by 25%.


While the effect of a recent vaccination must be evaluated, we provide strong evidence that receiving the BCG vaccine at birth does not have a protective effect against COVID-19 among middle-aged individuals.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View