The chickenpox vaccination isn’t currently offered to all children as part of Ireland’s immunisation schedule, but you can pay for your child to have it once they are over 12 months old. So, the big question is: should you? We look at the latest facts, with expert advice from Cork GP Dr Cliona Murphy.
A growing number of countries have already made the chickenpox vaccine part of their routine childhood vaccination programmes, including the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and Germany. And while Ireland has yet to add it to the State’s childhood immunisation programme, an assessment is currently underway following a request from the Department of Health, which was supported by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac). So what are your options currently, and what do you need to know before deciding whether to give your child the vaccine?
Isn’t It A Mild Childhood Illness?
Chickenpox is a common childhood infection and having chickenpox usually confers lifelong immunity in an immunocompetent individual (i.e someone who is not immunocompromised.)
However, some children who contract chickenpox will require hospitalisation. Even without complications, it is an unpleasant infection that generally will cause the infected person to experience high temperatures, headache, blistering rash, tiredness for about a week, and can result in an onward spread. It also results in children missing school and daycare and parents having to stay home from work.
People at higher risk of complications include infants, those who are pregnant, those with a weakened immune system, adults and elderly people. Complications of chickenpox virus are mild in most cases. However, some can be severe in a small number of cases and they include skin infections, pneumonia, encephalitis (swelling of the brain), sepsis (bloodstream infection), dehydration and very rarely death.
Effects Of The Vaccine
Most children don’t have any side effects from the shot. But the side effects that do occur are usually mild and can include: soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever and mild rash.
The vaccine contains a small amount of the chickenpox virus (varicella) and therefore is not given to people who are immunocompromised as there is a small risk they will become unwell after it.
Those that have not had chickenpox previously and are healthcare workers or are in frequent contact with someone with a weakened immune system should consider getting the chickenpox vaccine.
Why is it not part of our vaccine programme already like other countries?
The vaccine for chickenpox was first developed more than 50 years ago. Since the vaccination programme was introduced in the US in 1995, there has been a 97% decrease in chickenpox and hospitalisation there. Here, meanwhile, patterns of disease and available vaccines, along with cost benefit analyses, are carried out by the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) who advise the Government. Niac revise and amend recommendations regarding vaccines and the childhood immunisation programme. The Department of Health told RSVP that Hiqa are in fact currently carrying out an assessment into the possible inclusion of the varicella vaccine in the national immunisation programme, which is due to be completed in the coming months.
What does it Cost?
The vaccine is given in two doses one month apart, requiring two visits, and costs from €170 to €230 in total.
When To Get It
You can get the vaccination at any time of the year. Chickenpox is spread via close contact, usually via direct contact with the vesicles. It usually happens in sporadic outbreaks or clusters, however peak incidence is typically from March to May.
Dr Cliona Murphy is a GP and founder of Cholestero-Low. Visit cholesterolow.ie for more information.
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