It’s about children’s health . . . so what took them so long?
When I first became a mum more than 30 years ago, there was an unusual sort of party still in vogue. The ‘chickenpox party’ was seen by many as a rite of passage: the parent of an infected child would gather together friends with young children to contract this highly contagious virus. as it is known, alongside the
The parties got chickenpox out MMR vaccine to infants at 12 and of the way early on, because the 18 months of age. older you are when you get it, the This is long overdue: countries worse the symptoms and consequences such as Germany, Canada, Australia are likely to be. and the US have been doing
I would happily have sent my son this for years, while in the UK it Calum to one back then – had he has been available on the nhS not contracted the virus anyway only to people in close contact with aged 18 months, ending up covered those particularly vulnerable to in the blistery rash that is its the disease or its complications. hallmark. By the time I had my But chickenpox can be nasty, daughter Alice five years ago, there and its risks often underestimated. was no need for this rudimentary Among under-fours, 39 out of though effective approach. 100,000 will end up in hospital,
A vaccine had been developed, while almost one in 100,000 will but I had to pay £140 for a private have severe complications which clinic to administer the two injections, can be life-threatening. taken three months apart. I These risks are mitigated by did so because I firmly believe it to vaccination with a live virus that be the safest course of action. presents, in all but the most
That’s why I heartily welcome exceptional cases, no serious the proposal from the Joint Committee side- effects other than rarely a on Vaccination and Immunisation mild fever or rash. (JCVI) that the nhS Of course, there is – rightly – an should offer the varicella vaccination, ongoing debate about the extent to which we load our children’s immune systems with vaccinations. As with all medical issues, we must always balance the risk against the potential cost.
I spoke out against the prospect of Covid vaccinations for children, for example, believing that there was little proven benefit to administering a vaccine for which we had no long-term data to the young – who are at very little risk from Covid in the first place.
But when it comes to varicella, we are in very different territory, with plenty of robust data showing both its safety and effectiveness. Figures from the US show that in the 25 years after being rolled out in 1995, it has prevented 91million cases, 238,000 hospitalisations and 2,000 deaths.
There is also a ‘knock-on’ benefit, in the form of a greatly reduced chance later in life of developing shingles, a nasty infection which lies latent in the bodies of those who have suffered from chickenpox.
Data from a 2019 study showed that the risk of vaccinated children developing shingles in later life was reduced by two-thirds compared to those who had contracted chickenpox.
The prospective vaccination scheme has yet to be costed. It will not be cheap, but the JCVI says its research shows that any rollout would be cost-effective and possibly cost-saving.
Yes, nhS funds are limited, but when it comes to children’s health, it is worth spending the money.
Future generations may miss out on the great social leveller that was getting chickenpox. But they’ll also be spared the frantic itching, the endless lotion and the scars to prove it.
The only question is: what took the nhS so long?