Add chickenpox vaccine to UK child immunisation programme -vaccine advisors

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain should add the chickenpox vaccine to its routine childhood immunisation programme, the government’s vaccine advisory body said on Tuesday.

The recommendation would bring the UK in line with many other countries, like the United States and Germany, which routinely vaccinate children against the illness.

The Department of Health will have the final decision on implementing the vaccine.

If approved, the vaccine would be offered to children in two doses, at 12 and 18 months of age, the UK Health Security Agency said in a statement.

Caused by the varicella-zoster virus, chickenpox is relatively mild for most children, but there can be complications causing severe illness and, rarely, death, the agency said.

The highly contagious disease, which usually presents with an itchy rash, can be particularly risky for young infants and pregnant women.

The recommendation for Britain came from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), a panel of external experts.

The JCVI also suggested implementing a catch-up programme for older children as many have no immunity to the disease, with exposure limited during COVID-related lockdowns.

It was previously thought that routinely vaccinating children against chickenpox may lead to more cases of shingles among adults. The varicella-zoster virus can cause shingles in people who have had chickenpox previously, but having the virus circulate widely in the community can boost their immunity and prevent this.

Recent evidence has shown that cases of shingles did not rise in the United States in this way, the panel said, alongside data from other countries showing the vaccine dramatically reduced chickenpox cases.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, writing by Muvija M and Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Bernadette Baum)