International Journal of Urologic History

The BCG disaster, Lübeck, 1930: An Oral History Project of the ‘Calmette Children’ and their Survivorship

Hanna Lohse
First Published: July 1, 2021
DOI: 10.53101/IJUH71213
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Today Bacillus Calmette Guérin (BCG) is the most common agent used in the intravesical treatment of non- muscle invasive (NMIBC) bladder cancer but originally was used as a vaccine against the widespread scourge of tuberculosis. The public acceptance of this vaccination was, at least in Germany, delayed by an infamous 1930 medical event in which 251 infants were accidentally inoculated with a batch of BCG vaccine contaminated with live mycobacterial cultures. The accident itself was comprehensively investigated but those affected were forgotten. For this oral history project, adult survivors of the 1930 BCG disaster were interviewed in order to document their biographical outcomes and personal perspectives.


We conducted personal, recorded interviews with identified survivors of the 1930 BCG accident and relatives. We analyzed contemporary news articles and accounts and secondary sources from German medical and popular literature.


Of the survivors, a total of 8 patients and 8 family members of patients were interviewed. In addition, two interviews were also conducted with relatives of the presiding judge from the 1931/2 trial and of an involved physician. The 18 biographies make up the dataset for this study. Interviewed survivors, the so called ‘Calmette Kinder’ (Ger.”Kinder”: Children), recounted years of illness and chronic health impairments. The supportive measures taken after the accident by the town of Lübeck were extensive and ranged from medical care and health promoting measures such as additional food for the vaccinated infants to the establishment of an arbitration court for the compensation of the ‘Calmette Kinder’.


The Lübeck Disaster was a landmark event in the history of biomedical safety, ethics and informed consent. The decades-long consequences of a failed vaccination effort for infants still urges a cautious, measured approach to medical progress today. Lessons learned were critical for the establishment of the modern approach to public vaccination efforts so well-illustrated in the fight against CoVid 19 and other microbiological threats.

Editor in Chief: John L. Phillips, MD
Journal Design: Akhil A. Saji, MD
DOI: 10.53101
US ISSN: 2769-2183