Vaccine leaders are considering offering all babies shots to protect them from chickenpox – after talks to put the plan into effect were halted at the start of the Covid pandemic.
Normally a harmless disease, in rare cases the virus can lead to serious complications, including sepsis, pneumonia and brain damage.
Every year in the UK more than 20 people die from chickenpox and hundreds of babies are hospitalized due to severe symptoms.
But plans to launch a vaccination campaign, which would vaccinate thousands of babies in the UK every year, were shelved after government vaccine advisers were ordered to prioritize the rollout of Covid shots.
Similar discussions took place in 2010, but were shot down by experts who feared such a campaign would not be cost-effective.
The US and several other European countries already offer shots to all newborns against the disease.
File photo of a two-year-old girl who is sick with chickenpox at home
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) has returned to the issue and is currently evaluating the merits of a chickenpox vaccination campaign. Pictured left to right: Professor Wei Shen Lim, Chair JCVI, Chief Medical Officer for England Chris Whitty, and Dr June Raine, Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), at a Covid media briefing in Downing Street in September last year
Now The Mail on Sunday understands that the government’s vaccine advisory group, the Joint Vaccination and Immunization Committee (JCVI), has backtracked on the issue and is currently evaluating the merits of a chickenpox vaccination campaign.
Pediatricians have been asked to advise on how they think parents will respond and have also been asked to advise on the practicalities of integrating the vaccination into the current childhood vaccination schedule.
Research shared exclusively with this newspaper shows that three quarters of parents support the move. Only seven percent would probably not vaccinate their child against chickenpox. Last night, Professor Adam Finn, an expert on childhood vaccines and a member of JCVI, backed the plan, arguing that children should be protected from the serious health effects of the virus.
‘Chicken pox is a completely preventable disease in children and pediatricians like me want to see an end to it.
“Every year, thousands of children develop terrible, painful symptoms as a result of this virus. That is unnecessary suffering and misery if an effective and safe vaccine is available.’
Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster and it is normally a mild and relatively harmless disease that clears up on its own within a few days.
Symptoms include a high temperature, aches and pains, and a rash of red, itchy spots that blister and eventually crust over to form scabs.
In most cases, soothing creams and oat baths relieve the itching and acetaminophen can relieve the pain. Some parents even deliberately expose young children to the virus at ‘chickenpox parties’ as it is well known that the disease can be much more serious if caught in old age.
But doctors say many are unaware of the unusual but serious symptoms the disease can sometimes cause, including painful bacterial skin infections and lung infections, which make it difficult for children to breathe.
A vaccine to protect against chickenpox has been available since 1984. But until now, the NHS jab at £27 at a time has been deemed too expensive to offer all children.
“I see many more children in the hospital with chickenpox complications than other serious childhood diseases such as meningitis,” says Prof. Finn.
And even if they don’t end up in the hospital, thousands of children are left in agony because of the painful skin rashes that chickenpox can cause. Many will be left with scars for the rest of their lives.’
A vaccine to protect against chickenpox has been available since 1984. But until now, at a cost of £27 each for the NHS, the jab has been deemed too expensive to offer all children. It’s available privately in pharmacies such as Boots and Superdrug for around £65 a dose – it takes two – and in private clinics.
Many experts believe that the UK should follow other developed countries and make it available to all babies. In Germany, the vaccine was introduced in 2004 and led to a 65 percent decrease in the number of cases in the first six years.
The US ran a vaccination campaign in 1996 and has since seen a 90 percent drop in children contracting the disease.
Scientists say the best time to offer the shots is in addition to the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR), which is given at 12 to 15 months of age with the second dose at four to six years of age. year. But some experts believe the decision is not without risks.
A major concern is that poor uptake of the vaccine could increase the number of serious cases of chickenpox in the UK.
“If only a few people came forward for the vaccines, the number of chickenpox cases would drop, but this would mean that unvaccinated people are less likely to get the virus when they are young,” said Professor Helen Bedford, a pediatric health expert. at University College London.
“If you grow up and only get chickenpox, it can be very dangerous, so we want to avoid that situation.”
However, a recent survey conducted by University College London and Keele University suggests that most parents would take up the offer.
The study, yet to be published, surveyed 600 British parents and found that 75 per cent would be either ‘extremely likely’ or ‘probable’ to have their children vaccinated against chickenpox.
‘Next year the committee must reach a decision’, says Prof. Finn. “And I’m optimistic that we’ll get this plan over with this time.”