A chickenpox vaccine should become a routine immunization for children in the UK, experts have said, adding that the move would not only reduce the number of children who become ill from the virus, but also reduce the number of serious cases which can become fatal.
Currently the vaccine, known as the chickenpox vaccination, named after the varicella-zoster virus that causes the disease, is only available on the NHS to children and adults who are in regular contact or close with people who may become seriously ill from chickenpox infection or have weakened immune systems.
This includes healthcare workers who have never had chickenpox before, as well as close contacts of vulnerable people.
However, under the new proposal, the UK would join a number of other countries that already offer chickenpox vaccination as part of their routine childhood immunization programs, including Germany, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said that while chickenpox was well known and often considered a mild illness in children, this was not always the case.
“For some babies, young children and even adults, chickenpox or its complications can be very serious, leading to hospitalization or even death,” he said.
“Adding the chickenpox vaccine to the childhood immunization program will significantly reduce the number of cases of chickenpox in the community, leading to a much greater reduction in these tragic and more serious cases. »
Pollard said decades of evidence from countries including the United States showed such programs were safe and effective, adding that introducing the vaccine as part of routine childhood immunization in the United Kingdom would have a “really positive impact on the health of young children”.
The Ministry of Health will have the final decision on the implementation of the vaccine.
The proposal marks a change in thinking: the JCVI had previously warned that such a move could lead to an increase in cases of shingles in adults, as it would reduce the circulation of the chickenpox virus in the community.
Shingles occurs in people who have already had chickenpox when the varicella-zoster virus reactivates in the body. However, community circulation of chickenpox can help boost their immunity and prevent this from happening.
The JCVI says data from the United States suggests that vaccinating children would not lead to an increase in cases of shingles in adults.
Under the proposal, all children would be offered two doses of vaccine – one at 12 months and another at 18 months – while the recommendations also call for a temporary catch-up program for older children.
This decision appears to have been driven, in part, by the impact of the Covid pandemic, when social restrictions led to reduced mixing and therefore more children who have not yet had chickenpox .
Research suggests that there would be broad support for introducing the chickenpox vaccine as part of the routine childhood immunization program: a survey of around 600 parents released earlier this year Researchers from Keele University and University College London revealed that three quarters of those surveyed said they were in favor of such a move, with 18% saying they were unlikely to accept such a shot for their child and around 8% unsure.