A vaccine to protect against chickenpox should become a routine childhood vaccine, government advisers have announced.
But why is the jab being recommended now and who is currently eligible to get it on the NHS?
Here’s what we know.
Who is currently eligible for the chickenpox vaccine on the NHS?
The chickenpox vaccine protects against the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox.
A vaccination against chickenpox is not routinely offered on the NHS to children, but it is available if there’s a risk of harming someone with a weakened immune system. For example, a child can be vaccinated if one of their parents is having chemotherapy.
Why does the JCVI recommend all children be offered chickenpox jabs?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) said expanding the offer “will prevent severe cases of varicella, and other serious complications of varicella, which while rare may have otherwise resulted in hospitalisation or other serious outcomes”.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the chair of the JCVI, said: “Adding the varicella vaccine to the childhood immunisation programme will dramatically reduce the number of chickenpox cases in the community, leading to far fewer of those tragic, more serious cases.”
Helen Bedford, professor of Children’s Health at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, University College London, told the Science Media Centre that although chicken pox “is usually a mild infection” it “can also result in serious complications such as nasty bacterial skin infections, pneumonia and inflammation of the brain”.
She added: “Providing our children with this additional vaccine would be a welcome addition to the highly successful UK vaccination programme.”
Under JCVI recommendations, children would be offered two doses of the jab – one at 12 months and another at 18 months – using a combined MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) vaccine which is already used in some other countries including the US, Germany and Australia.
The recommendations also include provision for a temporary catch-up programme for older children who haven’t had the jab.
It’s now up to the Department of Health to decide whether to introduce the JCVI recommendation.