ALL children and pregnant women could be routinely vaccinated against chickenpox under a shake-up of immunisation policy.
The government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI) is considering adding the new chickenpox vaccine to the MMR triple injection already administered to children.
It is believed the move will cost £30 per patient.
Critics regard the proposal as overzealous because the number of deaths resulting from chickenpox each year is tiny and mainly affects people with immune systems that have been weakened by other conditions.
Child health specialists say mass vaccination is the best defence against chickenpox, and recommendations made by the JCVI are almost always adopted as government policy. The committee is also looking at vaccinating adults against shingles, which is caused by the same virus and is a more serious condition, particularly for elderly people.
Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said chickenpox could damage brain development in the foetus during the first 28 days of pregnancy. But he also claimed that a comprehensive vaccination programme would “probably only save a few lives” and its main benefits would be economic.
Field said large-scale immunisation would alleviate the pressure on hospital beds and would help children to avoid losing school time and their carers having to miss work.
In America children are routinely vaccinated against chickenpox and in some states are barred from school if they have not been immunised.
Children are also routinely vaccinated in Australia and Germany. Irish guidelines advise that pregnant women should be immunised.
People normally get chickenpox once and are then immune to the virus, but in rare cases people have been struck twice. Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus, which lies dormant in the spinal cord and can be reactivated in later life.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “JCVI has been examining the evidence on chickenpox and shingles vaccines since December 2007, and minutes from meetings are freely available on the JCVI website. A subgroup will meet again in March and their advice will be fed into the main committee.”
Most children have been through a number of vaccinations by the time they reach their teens.
At two months old, a child is immunised against whooping cough, diphtheria and tetanus in a combined vaccine. The polio vaccine is given at about the same time. Since 2006, two-month-olds have also been given the PCV jab, which protects against pneumococcal infections including meningitis C.
The MMR vaccine, covering measles, mumps and rubella, is given to a child at 13 months.
January 4, 2009
Source: The Sunday Times