Scientists Recommend Chickenpox Vaccine for Children in Britain's

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The chickenpox vaccine should be introduced on the NHS for children, scientists advising the government have recommended.

The chickenpox vaccine ought to be introduced for children within the publicly funded healthcare system in the UK, as recommended by scientists to the government.

The vaccine is advised for children aged 12 to 18 months within the National Health Service, according to the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

Furthermore, it stated that the vaccine, commonly referred to as the varicella shot, should be administered in two doses – initially at 12 months and subsequently at 18 months.

These recommendations find support in data from other nations, where the vaccine has notably decreased the incidence of chickenpox and averted severe cases in children.

The JCVI proposed a temporary catch-up program for older children who miss the initial vaccination age.

Officials in the Department of Health and Social Care are currently reviewing the recommendation.

Studies conducted at the University of Oxford indicate that two doses of the vaccine, administered as separate injections with at least a four-week interval, provide approximately 98% protection in children and around 75% protection in teenagers and adults.

The underlying rationale is that vaccination would curb childhood infections, consequently reducing the likelihood of more severe cases in unvaccinated adults.

Indeed, there has been a shift in perspective, influenced by new data and insights from international experiences.

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, chairman of the JCVI, underscored the gravity of chickenpox, especially in babies, young children, and adults.

“Chickenpox is well known, and most parents will probably consider it a common and mild illness among children,” he said.

“But for some babies, young children, and even adults, chickenpox or its complications can be very serious, resulting in hospitalization and even death.”

Prof Pollard emphasized that adding the varicella vaccine to the childhood immunization program will significantly decrease the number of chickenpox cases in the community, leading to a reduction in more severe cases.

“We now have decades of evidence from the US and other countries showing that introducing this program is safe, effective, and will have a really positive impact on the health of young children,” he said.

Chickenpox, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, is an acute and highly contagious disease.

Up to 90 per cent of non-immune individuals in close contact with an infected person are at risk of infection.

The illness starts with a mild fever and headaches, followed by a rash that evolves into itchy fluid-filled blisters. The virus spreads through direct contact with the rash, airborne droplets, or contaminated items like clothing.

Symptoms usually manifest 14 to 21 days after infection. Infectiousness reaches its peak one to two days before the rash and persists until all blisters crust over.

Following a chickenpox infection, the virus can remain dormant in the nervous system and reactivate years later as shingles (herpes zoster).

It primarily affects children under 10 and spreads rapidly in close-contact settings like schools.

While usually mild in children, chickenpox can be more severe in adolescents, adults, and specific groups like neonates, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised.

Complications may include pneumonia, secondary bacterial infections, encephalitis, and, in rare cases, death.

In pregnant women, varicella infection can result in severe chickenpox and congenital varicella syndrome in the fetus, causing limb deformities, skin scarring, cataracts, and growth retardation.

Symptom management primarily involves reducing fever and itchiness.

Antiviral drugs and immunoglobulin are available for high-risk individuals to prevent severe illness.

Chickenpox is endemic worldwide, with peak outbreaks in winter and spring in temperate climates.

By age 15, nine out of 10 people in the UK have had chickenpox.

Two vaccines are licensed in the UK. Vaccination is recommended for children close to high-risk individuals and non-immune healthcare workers.