Should your child get the chickenpox vaccination?

The chickenpox vaccination isn't currently generally offered on the NHS, but is available in selected pharmacies for a cost. Should your child have it though? Expert advice from family GP Dr Philippa Kaye

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In a nutshell: If there is a clinical reason your child needs the chickenpox vaccine then it will probably be offered on the NHS, but generally it is not given to children in the UK, though things could change.

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Research is currently being carried out by the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation to see if there should be any amendments to the way the chickenpox vaccine is given (or rather not generally given) to children here.

For now, family GP Dr Philippa Kaye says that in general she wouldn’t recommend paying for the vaccine unless your child has reached a certain stage of development without yet having had chickenpox.

Who needs the chickenpox vaccine?

Dr Philippa advises that, while the chickenpox vaccine is not on the routine vaccination schedule, your child probably would be offered it on the NHS if they are in close regular contact with someone who is at increased risk of the condition – for example someone in your household who is having chemotherapy, like a sibling.

Healthcare workers who are not immune to chickenpox will probably also be advised to have the vaccine.

Where can you get the chickenpox vaccination and how much does it cost?

The chickenpox vaccination is available in selected pharmacists in the UK and costs around £65.

Does my child need the chickenpox vaccination?

We asked Dr Philippa whether or not parents should think about getting the chickenpox vaccination for their children. Generally, she thinks not – unless there’s a good clinical reason for doing so.

“It isn’t available routinely as it may increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adulthood,” she goes on to say – which is backed up by studies which also confirm that chickenpox has a higher morbidity and mortality post‐childhood 1 – as Philippa advises:

While for most (though of course not all) children chickenpox is a mild, although irritating, condition, for adults chickenpox can be much more serious and the risk of complications increases as you get older.

Once a child reaches puberty though, things change. If your child hasn’t had chickenpox by then, Dr Philippa says she would consider giving it to them because of how much more severe it can be in adults.

Chickenpox vaccine in the UK – review

The thinking behind not giving children in the UK the chickenpox vaccine as standard is that it’s a relatively mild illness for children and that giving the vaccine to children will actually increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adults – which is much more serious.

However, not all countries take the same view. In the USA, the chickenpox vaccine is given as part of the MMR vaccine and is called MMRV (where ‘V’ stands for ‘Varilrix’ or ‘Varivax’ – the name of the vaccines.

If the chickenpox vaccine were to be introduced in the UK, it would likely be added to the MMR vaccine in the same way, which would possibly put people off getting the vaccine at all, as the idea of joint vaccines has become increasingly unpopular.

Up until now the Joint Committee of Vaccination and Immunisation, who advises the Government on vaccines, has said it wouldn’t be cost-effective to introduce the chickenpox vaccine generally, although it is currently in the process of reviewing data from other countries who do use the vaccine to see if this advice should change.

We will update you here if NHS advice on the chickenpox vaccine is amended.

Pics: Getty

References

1. Chickenpox, chickenpox vaccination, and shingles, PD Weslby. Postgrad Med J. 2006;82(967):351–352. DOI:10.1136/pgmj.2005.038984

About our expert GP Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

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