Too risky for the UK

LETTER

Chickenpox vaccination is not part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule in United Kingdom, but was recently introduced to the schedule in New Zealand.

The UK’s National Health Service website explains:

“There’s a worry that introducing chickenpox vaccination for all children could increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adults.

“While chickenpox during childhood is unpleasant, the vast majority of children recover quickly and easily. In adults, chickenpox is more severe and the risk of complications increases with age.

“If a childhood chickenpox vaccination programme was introduced, people would not catch chickenpox as children because the infection would no longer circulate in areas where the majority of children had been vaccinated.

“This would leave unvaccinated children susceptible to contracting chickenpox as adults, when they are more likely to develop a more severe infection or a secondary complication, or in pregnancy, when there is a risk of the infection harming the baby.

“We could also see a significant increase in cases of shingles in adults. Being exposed to chickenpox as an adult — for example, through contact with infected children — boosts your immunity to shingles.

“If you vaccinate children against chickenpox, you lose this natural boosting, so immunity in adults will drop and more shingles cases will occur.”

How dare the Ministry of Health in New Zealand endanger our nation’s health. Based on whose advice?

S. Williams

Footnote by Helen Petousis-Harris, PhD vaccinologist, The University of Auckland:

The World Health Organisation includes chickenpox vaccine on the list of essential medicines and it has been on the childhood immunisation schedule in many countries for over three decades.

Historically, there had been some concern that eliminating chickenpox from circulation may result in increased rates of shingles in older adults. This was based on the assumption that regular exposure to the virus boosted immunity and prevented shingles. This theory is now considered unlikely to be correct. Even if it were correct (which it seems not) it does not seem very ethical to let children suffer in favour of adults!

It is important to note that chickenpox is not always a benign disease. Each year in New Zealand there are around 55,000 cases and 450 hospitalisations due to chickenpox. Between 2001 and 2011 there were 26 children admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital Intensive Care for the pox, or secondary complications. Eight of these children left hospital disabled after being previously healthy, four died.

People who have had chicken pox will remain at risk of shingles for the rest of their lives. Vaccinated people are much less likely to get shingles. Also, preventing chickenpox will reduce the amount of antibiotic prescriptions for associated secondary infections, usually Staph. As we all know, antibiotic resistance is a problem facing us all and in this case prevention is way cheaper and less unpleasant than cure.

Chickenpox vaccination is not part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule in United Kingdom, but was recently introduced to the schedule in New Zealand.

The UK’s National Health Service website explains:

“There’s a worry that introducing chickenpox vaccination for all children could increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adults.

“While chickenpox during childhood is unpleasant, the vast majority of children recover quickly and easily. In adults, chickenpox is more severe and the risk of complications increases with age.

“If a childhood chickenpox vaccination programme was introduced, people would not catch chickenpox as children because the infection would no longer circulate in areas where the majority of children had been vaccinated.

“This would leave unvaccinated children susceptible to contracting chickenpox as adults, when they are more likely to develop a more severe infection or a secondary complication, or in pregnancy, when there is a risk of the infection harming the baby.

“We could also see a significant increase in cases of shingles in adults. Being exposed to chickenpox as an adult — for example, through contact with infected children — boosts your immunity to shingles.

“If you vaccinate children against chickenpox, you lose this natural boosting, so immunity in adults will drop and more shingles cases will occur.”

How dare the Ministry of Health in New Zealand endanger our nation’s health. Based on whose advice?

S. Williams

Footnote by Helen Petousis-Harris, PhD vaccinologist, The University of Auckland:

The World Health Organisation includes chickenpox vaccine on the list of essential medicines and it has been on the childhood immunisation schedule in many countries for over three decades.

Historically, there had been some concern that eliminating chickenpox from circulation may result in increased rates of shingles in older adults. This was based on the assumption that regular exposure to the virus boosted immunity and prevented shingles. This theory is now considered unlikely to be correct. Even if it were correct (which it seems not) it does not seem very ethical to let children suffer in favour of adults!

It is important to note that chickenpox is not always a benign disease. Each year in New Zealand there are around 55,000 cases and 450 hospitalisations due to chickenpox. Between 2001 and 2011 there were 26 children admitted to Starship Children’s Hospital Intensive Care for the pox, or secondary complications. Eight of these children left hospital disabled after being previously healthy, four died.

People who have had chicken pox will remain at risk of shingles for the rest of their lives. Vaccinated people are much less likely to get shingles. Also, preventing chickenpox will reduce the amount of antibiotic prescriptions for associated secondary infections, usually Staph. As we all know, antibiotic resistance is a problem facing us all and in this case prevention is way cheaper and less unpleasant than cure.

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Richard - 2 months ago
Parents - the chickenpox vaccination is a very safe, tried and long-term tested vaccine. For an accurate factual assessment follow the link below, and not the hysterical nonsense of the AntiVaxer community!

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/vaccines/varicella-vaccine.html


Richard - 2 months ago
This is also what the UK National Health Service says - conveniently left out by S. Williams:

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vaccinations/Pages/chickenpox-vaccine-questions-answers.aspx#NHS

Helen Petousis-Harris - 2 months ago
An additional comment about shingles for those concerned about this issue. Shingles has been increasing in many countries over the years, regardless of whether they have been using chicken pox vaccine. Here is one example from the US: https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/63/2/221/1745553/Increasing-Incidence-of-Herpes-Zoster-Over-a-60 which concludes: "The incidence of HZ has increased >4-fold over the last 6 decades. This increase is unlikely to be due to the introduction of varicella vaccination, antiviral therapy, or change in the prevalence of immunocompromised individuals."

A perspective in the NZ context (from 2014) here with links to some of the evidence. https://sciblogs.co.nz/diplomaticimmunity/2014/12/18/what-do-chickens-astronauts-and-st-anthonys-fire-have-in-common-varicella-policy-at-odds-with-science/

Varicella vaccine will ultimately prevent today's young people from suffering shingles.