According to experts, the NHS should provide children with the chickenpox vaccine.
Government advisers in the UK have recommended that a routine childhood vaccination for chickenpox be implemented in order to decrease the occurrence of both mild and severe cases, potentially preventing fatalities.
Currently, the vaccine for chickenpox, also known as the varicella vaccination due to its target virus, is only offered by the NHS to children and adults who are in frequent or close contact with individuals at risk for severe complications from the infection or have a compromised immune system.
This pertains to healthcare professionals who have not previously contracted chickenpox, as well as individuals in close proximity to those who are susceptible.
However, under the new proposal from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the UK would join a number of other countries that already offer the varicella vaccination as part of routine childhood immunisation programmes, including Germany, Canada, Australia and the US.
According to Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who chairs the JCVI, although chickenpox is generally recognized as a common and mild sickness in children, this is not always the situation.
According to him, chickenpox or its complications can be extremely severe and lead to hospitalization or death for certain infants, young kids, and even adults.
The inclusion of the varicella vaccine in the childhood immunization schedule will significantly decrease the occurrence of chickenpox cases in the community, resulting in a substantial decrease in severe cases.
Pollard stated that many years of proof from various nations, including the United States, demonstrated the safety and efficacy of these programs. They also mentioned that incorporating the vaccine into the routine childhood immunization schedule in the UK would greatly benefit the health of young children.
The final decision on implementing the vaccine will be made by the Department of Health.
The proposal represents a change in perspective: the JCVI previously cautioned that this action could potentially lead to a rise in shingles cases among adults, as it would decrease the spread of the chickenpox virus within the population.
Shingles is a condition that results from the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus in individuals who have had chickenpox in the past. Fortunately, exposure to chickenpox in the community can strengthen their immune system and reduce the likelihood of this reactivation.
According to the JCVI, information from the United States indicates that inoculating children would not lead to an increase in instances of shingles among adults.
According to the proposal, every child would receive two doses of the vaccine – one at 12 months old and another at 18 months old. The recommendations also suggest implementing a temporary catch-up program for older children.
It seems that the decision was influenced, at least in part, by the effects of the Covid pandemic. Social limitations have resulted in fewer interactions, resulting in a larger group of children who have not yet been exposed to chickenpox.
Studies indicate that incorporating the chickenpox vaccine into the standard childhood immunization schedule would receive considerable backing. A recent investigation conducted by scholars from Keele University and University College London, involving approximately 600 parents, indicated that around 75% expressed their approval for this measure. However, 18% stated that they would probably not consent to their child receiving the vaccine, while approximately 8% were uncertain.
Helen Bedford, a co-author of the research and professor of children’s health at UCL, stated that the inclusion of a chickenpox vaccine in the UK vaccination schedule will be well-received by numerous parents.
“Even though chicken pox is typically a mild illness, it can cause children to experience discomfort from an itchy rash and possibly a fever. Additionally, chicken pox can lead to severe complications, including bacterial skin infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain.”
Including this extra vaccine in our children’s vaccinations would be a valuable addition to the highly effective vaccination program in the UK.