Differential Adverse Event Profiles Associated with BCG as a Preventive Tuberculosis Vaccine or Therapeutic Bladder Cancer Vaccine Identified by Comparative Ontology-Based VAERS and Literature Meta-Analysis

PLoS One. 2016 Oct 17;11(10):e0164792. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0164792. eCollection 2016.


M. bovis strain Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has been the only licensed live attenuated vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) for nearly one century and has also been approved as a therapeutic vaccine for bladder cancer treatment since 1990. During its long time usage, different adverse events (AEs) have been reported. However, the AEs associated with the BCG preventive TB vaccine and therapeutic cancer vaccine have not been systematically compared. In this study, we systematically collected various BCG AE data mined from the US VAERS database and PubMed literature reports, identified statistically significant BCG-associated AEs, and ontologically classified and compared these AEs related to these two types of BCG vaccine. From 397 VAERS BCG AE case reports, we identified 64 AEs statistically significantly associated with the BCG TB vaccine and 14 AEs with the BCG cancer vaccine. Our meta-analysis of 41 peer-reviewed journal reports identified 48 AEs associated with the BCG TB vaccine and 43 AEs associated with the BCG cancer vaccine. Among all identified AEs from VAERS and literature reports, 25 AEs belong to serious AEs. The Ontology of Adverse Events (OAE)-based ontological hierarchical analysis indicated that the AEs associated with the BCG TB vaccine were enriched in immune system (e.g., lymphadenopathy and lymphadenitis), skin (e.g., skin ulceration and cyanosis), and respiratory system (e.g., cough and pneumonia); in contrast, the AEs associated with the BCG cancer vaccine mainly occurred in the urinary system (e.g., dysuria, pollakiuria, and hematuria). With these distinct AE profiles detected, this study also discovered three AEs (i.e., chills, pneumonia, and C-reactive protein increased) shared by the BCG TB vaccine and bladder cancer vaccine. Furthermore, our deep investigation of 24 BCG-associated death cases from VAERS identified the important effects of age, vaccine co-administration, and immunosuppressive status on the final BCG-associated death outcome.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • BCG Vaccine / adverse effects*
  • BCG Vaccine / immunology
  • BCG Vaccine / therapeutic use
  • C-Reactive Protein / analysis
  • Cancer Vaccines / adverse effects*
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Databases, Factual
  • Dysuria / etiology
  • Humans
  • Lymphadenopathy / etiology
  • Pneumonia / etiology
  • Skin Ulcer / etiology
  • Tuberculosis Vaccines / adverse effects*
  • Tuberculosis Vaccines / immunology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / therapy*


  • BCG Vaccine
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Tuberculosis Vaccines
  • C-Reactive Protein