Nurses may lead chickenpox immunisation for young children
Advisory committee recommends vaccine at 12 months and 18 months; nurses welcome the move but said ‘details for implementation will need to be worked through’
Nurses are likely to be at the forefront of delivering a new chickenpox immunisation programme after scientists recommended the vaccine be introduced on the NHS for young children.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advises UK health departments, said the vaccine should be given to children in two doses, at 12 months and 18 months.
Chickenpox jab may form part of a combined vaccine
Data from other countries suggests the jab – also known as the varicella vaccine – will prevent most severe cases of chickenpox, which can cause serious illness and even death.
The JCVI recommended the chickenpox vaccine is given as part of a combined MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) vaccine.
It also recommended a temporary catch-up programme for older children who missed out on natural immunity from catching the disease due to restrictions on socialising during the pandemic.
Concern that ‘nurses may be inundated with requests from parents’
Independent nurse consultant, immunisation specialist nurse and Queen’s Nurse Helen Donovan welcomed the recommendations.
‘I think it’s great news. It’s something that has been on the cards for some time and it is certainly something to be pleased about,’ said Ms Donovan.
She added that it was not clear how quickly the vaccination programme would be implemented.
‘My slight concern is that practice nurses may be inundated with requests from parents who want something we can’t do at the moment,’ she said.
Recommendation marks a ‘significant change in the childhood immunisation programme’
Ms Donovan explained that nurses already handled enquiries about the chickenpox vaccine because it was available in other countries including Germany, Canada, Australia and the United States.
‘I think it should be seen as a positive but the details for implementation will need to be worked through,’ she said.
‘The addition of the chickenpox vaccine could be part of a significant change in the childhood immunisation programme – as already advised by the JCVI – with a potential new vaccine appointment at 18 months.’
Nurses will have to ‘spend time discussing the “new” vaccine with parents’
University College London professor of children’s health Helen Bedford noted that the vaccine will create additional work for practice nurses, but added that the recommendations were a welcome step.
‘Any change to the vaccine schedule requires nurses to not only change practice and get up to speed on the vaccine, but will also result in them having to spend time discussing the “new” vaccine with parents,’ she said.
‘Fortunately, in the case of chickenpox vaccine, although new as a universal offer in the UK, there are many years of experience of its use in other countries.’
Government is considering the proposal
The JCVI had previously ruled out a UK-wide vaccination programme for chickenpox due to concern that it could increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adults. But a recent long-term study from the US found this was not the case.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘We are considering the JCVI’s advice on including a chickenpox programme in the routine immunisation schedule for children.’
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