How Do Live Bacterial Vaccines Work?

Reviewed on 12/27/2021

How do live bacterial vaccines work?

Live bacterial vaccines are biological products that provide immunity against certain bacterial infections. Live bacterial vaccines stimulate the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against specific types of bacteria and protect a vaccinated individual from diseases caused by these bacteria.

Live bacterial vaccines are weakened (attenuated) forms of disease-causing bacteria. Live bacterial vaccines produce a strong and often life-long immunity similar to the acquired immunity from a natural infection, but without causing serious disease, because they only contain a small amount of the weakened bacteria. 

Live bacterial vaccines are derived by weakening the disease-causing bacteria in laboratories, usually with repeated culturing. Live bacterial vaccines must be stored and handled with care because they are fragile and can be damaged by heat and light.

Live bacterial vaccines may not be safe for individuals with compromised immunity. People with weakened immune systems should consult with their health care providers before receiving live bacterial vaccines, because they may cause severe infections that their immune systems may be unable to control.

BCG (bacillus Calmette-Guérin) live bacterial vaccine that protects against tuberculosis (TB) is also used as immunotherapy in treating bladder cancer. The vaccine stimulates the immune system to attack the cancer cells. BCG vaccine is derived from Mycobacterium bovis which is similar to Mycobacterium tuberculosis that causes TB.

The FDA-approved live bacterial vaccines provide immunity against the following bacterial infectious diseases:


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How are live bacterial vaccines used?

Live bacterial vaccines are mostly administered as single or a series of doses through the following routes:

Live bacterial vaccines approved by the FDA include:

  • BCG vaccine for immunization against tuberculosis for:
    • Adults and children in developing countries, primarily.
    • TB exposed health care workers in high-risk settings.
  • BCG vaccine as immunotherapy in bladder cancer in adults.
  • Cholera vaccine for immunization in persons of ages 2-64 traveling to cholera-affected areas.
  • Typhoid vaccine for selective immunization against typhoid fever in adults and children traveling to typhoid-endemic areas.

What are side effects of live bacterial vaccines?

Side effects of live bacterial vaccines may include the following:

Information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible side effects, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure these drugs do not cause any harm when you take them along with other medicines. Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting your doctor.

What are names of live bacterial vaccines?

Generic and brand names of live bacterial vaccines include:


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