UNITED KINGDOM — The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a scientific committee advising the British government, has recommended for the first time that children in the UK should be immunized with the chickenpox vaccine.
This comes decades after the vaccine became widely available in other countries such as the U.S., Canada, and Australia.
Currently, in the UK, individuals who wish to be immunized against chickenpox must pay around £150 (approximately US$184).
The JCVI suggests that children aged between 1 year and 18 months should be offered two doses of the vaccine, which also provides protection against measles, mumps, and rubella.
The committee bases its recommendation on data from other countries, indicating that the vaccine, also known as the varicella jab, would significantly reduce the prevalence of chickenpox and prevent severe cases in children.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chair of the expert vaccine group, emphasized the seriousness of chickenpox and its complications, especially in babies, young children, and adults. Complications can lead to hospitalization and, in severe cases, death.
Pollard highlighted the “decades of evidence” from other countries demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
The United States was the first country to introduce a chickenpox immunization program in 1995. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes chickenpox cases as “rare,” estimating fewer than 150,000 cases and 30 deaths annually.
In contrast, British experts estimate over 650,000 cases of chickenpox in England and Wales. The JCVI’s recommendation includes a temporary catch-up program for older children.
Chickenpox is highly infectious, primarily affecting children, and can manifest as an itchy rash, blisters, and fever.
While most cases are mild and last about a week, the virus can, in rare instances, cause pneumonia, encephalitis, and death. Two doses of the vaccine provide over 90% protection against the disease.
The JCVI’s recommendation will now be considered by the UK government. The National Health Service (NHS) has previously expressed concerns that introducing the chickenpox vaccine might increase the risk of shingles among adults.
However, experts note that the government already offers the shingles vaccine to adults at risk of the disease.
Dr. Gayatri Amirthalingam, deputy director of public health programs at the Health Security Agency, believes that the new recommendations for the chickenpox vaccine will contribute to making chickenpox a problem of the past.