Could the UK finally have a chickenpox jab?

I was casually reading the news yesterday, as you do. I tend to skim read and just click on things that interest me or aren’t going to cause me too much anxiety. However, yesterday one particular headline really caught my eye. The NHS have been advised that the chickenpox vaccine should be given to toddlers in the UK. While the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and about 50% of European countries offer it, we’ve not yet taken it up.

Why does the UK not currently vaccinate against chickenpox?

There have been concerns that giving people the chickenpox vaccine would protect the person having the jab, but potentially have a negative effect on others. Especially older people at risk of shingles. However, growing evidence shows that this doesn’t actually seem to be an issue.

Where can you get the chickenpox vaccine in the UK?

Currently, if you want the chickenpox vaccine you have to pay for it privately. This can be done at a private clinic, or some high street pharmacies also offer it. This involves two doses and costs somewhere around £150-£200 for the full course.

Does the chickenpox vaccine contain live virus?

Yes, the chickenpox vaccine does contain a small amount of the live virus. However, it is a weakened version especially designed for the body to learn about the virus and fight it off without getting fully fledged chickenpox. That said, it isn’t suitable for people with weak immune systems.

Does the vaccine stop you from getting chickenpox?

It doesn’t mean you’ll be immune for life. However, it does dramatically reduce your chances of getting chickenpox or a bad case of it. For those in the latter category, it could literally be life-saving.

What age will the chickenpox jab be for?

If the government decide to add it to the list of routine immunisations for children (go on Rishi, you know you want to!) then the two doses will be given to children at 12 months and 18 months. According to the BBC, this will be combined with the MMR as one shot. Phew, no extra needles!

However, it sounds as though this will also be temporarily rolled out to slightly older children as there is a backlog of children catching chickenpox due to Covid restrictions since 2020.

My thoughts on it all

Concerns about my children

I am hopeful that the chickenpox vaccine will be rolled out to children in the UK. It is well-known that if people catch chickenpox as teenagers and adults it can be far worse than if it is caught as a young child. While it doesn’t concern me too much that my 2 year old hasn’t caught it yet, I’m increasingly worried by the fact my 7 year old hasn’t.

I assumed my daughter would catch it when she went to nursery. However, after only 3 months, Covid 19 arrived in the UK and lockdowns came into place two springs in a row. From what I’ve seen and heard, March time seems to be when chickenpox is most prevalent. Yet for two in a row, my daughter couldn’t socialise with other children. Concerned about her never catching it as a child, I have considered taking her to get the chickenpox jab. However, it’s not something I’ve been able to afford.

Witnessing complications of chickenpox

Let’s go back a little over 20 years. My brother caught chickenpox aged 3 when he was in nursery. It was a bad strain that year and he suffered terribly. As well as the infamous itchy red spots, he developed a high temperature, severe pain in his legs and had hallucinations. He was hospitalised and it got to the point where he couldn’t walk. Fortunately he learnt to walk again but the pain was an issue on and off for years.

Now an adult, over the last few years he’s had the odd spell of falling very ill and being hospitalised with symptoms including loss of consciousness, disorientation and confusion, headaches, strange eye movements and speech problems). While the exact problem (myelitis or something else?) hasn’t been pinpointed, it all goes back to that horrendous case of chickenpox. While most children recover well, some people become extremely unwell like my brother – and sometimes it’s fatal.

Stories like my brother’s and Keyan Harvey’s in yesterday’s news article make me feel guilty for not just getting my children the jab and putting it on a credit card or something. (Poor Keyan Harvey, by the way, developed necrotising fasciitis. This is basically a bug that eats flesh). I know it’s very unlikely that my kids would have such a bad case of chickenpox, but the worry is still there. A lot of people don’t realise that chickenpox can be so serious. However, when it’s been so close to home you do really worry about the potential risks.

The chickenpox vaccine

That’s why I would welcome the chickenpox vaccine in the UK. Having read many articles about how it would help the general population and knowing just how bad it can get, I think it would be a good thing. I just hope the government read some case studies on people who have truly suffered or died from chickenpox and roll it out. Furthermore, I hope that it would roll out to children who likely didn’t catch it due to the pandemic like my daughter. After all, it can save lives.

Cover photo by CDC on Unsplash