Chickenpox vaccine safe and effective – HIQA

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HIQA has found clear and consistent evidence from a strong evidence base that the chickenpox vaccine was both safe and effective in preventing chickenpox and its complications.

Following  its Health Technology Assessment (HTA) of adding the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine to the routine childhood immunisation programme, HIQA said that adding the chickenpox vaccine to the childhood immunisation programme was likely to be cost effective The assessment was requested by the Department of Health following a policy recommendation from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC).

Chickenpox is a common, highly infectious disease mainly affecting children less than ten years old. While most children are only unwell for a short period, chickenpox can result in long-term skin scarring and, less commonly, serious complications. Of the 58,000 cases of chickenpox every year in Ireland, approximately one in 250 cases will be hospitalised with associated complications. Approximately one third of people who have had chickenpox will develop shingles at some point during their lifetime due to reactivation of the virus.

HIQA’s review of international practices found that while several countries had offered the vaccine as part of their childhood immunisation programmes for many years, the dosing schedules varied.

Dr Conor Teljeur, HIQA’s Chief Scientist, said, “One-dose of the vaccine will reduce severe disease including hospitalisations and overall occurrences. Two doses have the potential to further reduce the number of cases and eliminate chickenpox.”

“We found that vaccination against chickenpox is likely to represent a good use of healthcare resources. When societal costs, such as leave from paid work to care for sick children, are considered, we found that vaccination would be cost saving. Adding the vaccine to the childhood immunisation schedule would cost between €13 million and €28 million over the first five years, depending on whether one or two doses are given.”

The HTA has been submitted as advice to the Minister for Health and the Health Service Executive to inform a decision regarding the inclusion of the chickenpox vaccine in the childhood immunisation programme.