Azara Blog: Some doctors want mass chickenpox vaccination of children

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Date published: 2007/11/08

The BBC says:

Vaccinating all children is the only way to prevent severe illness and death from chickenpox, researchers have said.

In one 13-month period in the UK and Irish Republic, there were six deaths and 112 cases of severe complications among children, they said.

Problems included blood poisoning and pneumonia and did not just affect those with other health problems, said teams including health experts from Scotland.

Ministers are awaiting a report on whether England should have a vaccine.
In an accompanying editorial, clinicians from Bristol Children's Hospital said that even if all children were not vaccinated, a smaller strategy of immunising teenagers who had not suffered the illness would prevent cases of severe disease in adults.

They said that one option for universal vaccination - adding the chickenpox jab to the existing MMR vaccine - might not win public support.
They also raised the possibility that rates of shingles, caused in adults by the same virus, might rise if all children were vaccinated against it.

Adults who have already suffered a bout of chickenpox do not usually develop it again, but the virus lives on in their nerves and if their immunity falls later in life, it can flare up as a painful rash.

However, living in households with children who have chickenpox acts as a "booster" to their immunity, and reduces the chances of a shingles attack.

Nigel Scott, from the Herpes Viruses Association, said: "If we had to choose between the two, we would advocate vaccinating the elderly, as shingles is far more likely to cause serious health problems in many more people than is chickenpox in the young.

"Any benefits to children from a chickenpox vaccine would have to be offset against any potential increase in adult chickenpox and shingles in the elderly.

"The effect on the whole population needs to be considered, not just one age group."

Unbelievable this. First of all, the proposal of these experts might actually do more harm than good, when you take the population as a whole. Secondly, the cost of this mass vaccination is not even mentioned. It would have to be almost zero for any cost-benefit analysis to show this idea is worthwhile, given how few children (about a hundred a year ) this would even benefit a lot (even ignoring the adults for whom this would be a negative). Unfortunately the media, especially the BBC, rarely worries about the cost of anything. They just think the government has an infinite pile of cash to spend and it's only because politicians are wicked and lazy and stupid that every possible health treatment on the face of the earth is not funded.

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