Routine chickenpox vaccination for children advised in UK

Every child in the UK should receive a routine chickenpox vaccination, a committee which advises on immunisation has urged.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended that a vaccine against varicella – commonly known as chickenpox – should be combined with the routine measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot.

The committee said the vaccine should be offered to all children in two doses – at 12 and 18 months old.

“Introducing a vaccine against chickenpox would prevent most children getting what can be quite a nasty illness”

Gayatri Amirthalingam

In addition, the JCVI has recommended a temporary catch-up programme for older children who would miss out in the roll out.

The programme would grant protection against the risks that come with getting chickenpox as an older child or adult, when complications of the infectious disease can be much more severe.

It comes as chickenpox cases reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic due to social restrictions, meaning there are lots of children without immunity.

The JCVI had previously ruled out a UK-wide programme due to concerns that it could increase cases of shingles in middle-aged adults. However, a recent study from the US has disproved this theory.

The committee has submitted its recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Care, which will take the final decision on whether to implement the vaccination programme.

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If approved, the UK will join other countries in offering routine chickenpox vaccinations, such as Germany, Canada, Australia and the US.

All these countries have seen significant decreases in the number of cases of chickenpox and subsequent hospitalisations since implementing vaccination programmes.

Sir Andrew Pollard, chair of the JCVI, said: “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.

“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.”

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, deputy director of public health programmes at the UK Health Security Agency, echoed this and said the committee’s recommendations would “help make chickenpox a problem of the past”.

She added: “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.”

It follows other recent recommendations from the JCVI for routine vaccination programmes to be introduced for gonorrhoea and mpox.

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