Babies should be offered a chickenpox vaccine, Government advisors ruled today.
Under a massive proposed shake-up of the NHS childhood immunisation calendar, children would routinely be offered two doses when they are 12 and 18 months.
Health experts have also recommended ministers embark on a ‘catch-up’ campaign for up to 7million toddlers and older kids.
Department of Health bosses will now consider the recommendations — which health chiefs hope will make chickenpox ‘a problem of the past’ — before a final decision is made.
As of now, parents wanting their child to be vaccinated against chickenpox have to pay up to £150 privately. Some throw ‘parties’ so their kids get infected and build-up some immunity.
Every year, around 20 people die due to chickenpox in the UK. Hundreds of babies are hospitalised due to severe symptoms.
Data suggests the jab, which would be offered in two doses at 12 and 18 months, would slash chickenpox transmission and prevent most severe cases in children, according to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI)
Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster, and it is normally a mild and relatively harmless illness that causes a tell-tale rash. Each infected person is thought to pass the virus on to 10 other people, making it more contagious than the common cold and flu, which each infected person gives to two others. Meanwhile, studies suggest each measles infection leads to 16 new cases
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises the Government, says it would lead to ‘far fewer’ serious cases.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chair of the JCVI, said: ‘Chickenpox is well known, and most parents will probably consider it a common and mild illness among children.
‘But for some babies, young children and even adults, chickenpox or its complications can be very serious, resulting in hospitalisation and even death.
‘Adding the varicella vaccine to the childhood immunisation programme will dramatically reduce the number of chickenpox cases in the community, leading to far fewer of those tragic, more serious cases.
Childhood vaccinations and when to have them
- 6-in-1 vaccine
- Rotavirus vaccine
- MenB vaccine
- 6-in-1 vaccine (2nd dose)
- Pneumococcal vaccine
- Rotavirus vaccine (2nd dose)
- 6-in-1 vaccine (3rd dose)
- MenB vaccine (2nd dose)
- Hib/MenC vaccine (1st dose)
- MMR vaccine (1st dose)
- Pneumococcal vaccine (2nd dose)
- MenB vaccine (3rd dose)
2 to 15 years
- Children’s flu vaccine (every year until children finish Year 11 of secondary school)
3 years and 4 months
- MMR vaccine (2nd dose)
- 4-in-1 pre-school booster vaccine
12 to 13 years
- 3-in-1 teenage booster vaccine
- MenACWY vaccine
‘We now have decades of evidence from the US and other countries showing that introducing this programme is safe, effective and will have a really positive impact on the health of young children.’
Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster, and it is normally a mild and relatively harmless illness that causes a tell-tale rash.
It usually clears up on its own within days.
Soothing creams can ease the itching and paracetamol can relieve the pain.
However, scientists are concerned after chickenpox cases slumped during the Covid pandemic due to lockdowns and social distancing.
As a result, there is now a larger pool of children than usual without immunity to the illness, which can prove much more serious if caught at an older age.
The JCVI believes a catch-up programme would offer children protection against the infection, as chickenpox can become more severe with age.
It did not set out exactly who should be offered the jabs.
Yet in a report outlining its recommendation it said: ‘Initial findings suggest that a universal catch-up vaccination programme using a single dose of vaccine is likely to be cost-effective for children up to five.’
It said further work was needed to understand whether a targeted programme ‘could be cost-effective for children ages six to 11’.
A vaccine to protect against chickenpox has been available since 1984.
Currently, the jabs are only available on the NHS to some adults and children, such as those who are not immune and in close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system.
It is available privately in chemists such as Boots and Superdrug for about £65 per dose – two are needed – and at private clinics.
Plans to institute a vaccination campaign were put on hold at the beginning of the Covid pandemic after advisers were instructed to reprioritise.
Similar discussions took place in 2010, but were shot down by experts who worried such a campaign would not be cost-effective because it may lead to an increase of shingles in middle-aged adults.
Recent studies have however suggested that vaccinating children may not drive up shingles rates.
Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster, and it is normally a mild and relatively harmless illness that causes a tell-tale rash
A key worry is that poor take-up of the vaccine could increase the number of severe cases of chickenpox in the UK because unjabbed kids would be less likely to catch the virus while they’re young.
In Germany, the vaccine was introduced in 2004 and led to a 65 per cent decrease in cases in the first six years.
The US implemented a vaccination campaign in 1996 and has since seen a 90 per cent drop in children catching the disease.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, deputy director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency, said: ‘Introducing a vaccine against chickenpox would prevent most children getting what can be quite a nasty illness — and for those who would experience more severe symptoms, it could be a life saver.
‘The JCVI’s recommendations will help make chickenpox a problem of the past and bring the UK into line with a number of other countries that have well-established programmes.’
Some chickenpox sufferers will go on to develop complications, including bacterial infections such as group A streptococcus.
In severe cases it can cause a swelling of the brain (encephalitis), inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis) and a stroke, which can result in hospitalisation and even death.