Chickenpox Vaccination Recommended in England
Vaccine experts in the United Kingdom recommended expanding its children's vaccination program to better align with other developed countries.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has recommended adding a vaccine against varicella, known as chickenpox, to the U.K.'s routine childhood immunization program.
The vaccine would be offered to all toddlers in two doses, using the combined MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella) vaccine.
Merck's ProQuad® MMRV vaccine is generally available at clinics and pharmacies in the United States.
The committee has submitted its recommendations to the Department of Health and Social Care, which will decide whether to implement a program.
The JCVI has also recommended a temporary catch-up program for older children be included in the initial rollout.
Recent seroepidemiology data from the U.K. Health Security Agency (UKHSA) indicates that approximately half of children have had varicella by the time they are four years old, rising to 90% by the time they are ten years old.
Varicella, or chickenpox, is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
Herpes zoster (shingles) is caused by reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in a previously infected person, a risk because the virus remains dormant in the body following an initial varicella infection.
People with herpes zoster can transmit the virus to susceptible people to cause chickenpox, but herpes zoster is not acquired from coming into contact with someone with varicella.
Chickenpox cases were significantly reduced during the recent pandemic, meaning there is currently a larger pool of children than usual without immunity.
The catch-up program would offer them protection against more significant risks from the illness through later childhood or as adults when chickenpox can be more severe.
If approved, it would align the U.K. with other countries offering routine varicella vaccination, including Germany, Canada, Australia, and the U.S., the latter of which has had a childhood program since 1995.
Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam, Deputy Director of Public Health Programmes at the UKHSA, commented in a press release on November 14, 2023, "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 lifesaver."
"The JCVI's recommendations will help make chickenpox a problem of the past and bring the U.K. into line with several other countries with well-established programs."