– “It’s best to ask after the summer holidays if it’s available again”
Anyone who wants to have their child vaccinated against chickenpox is currently getting nothing: the head of the vaccination commission, Christoph Berger, says why that is and what parents can do.
Since January 1, 2023, in Switzerland, the Varicella vaccination as basic vaccination recommended for all infants between the ages of 9 and 12 months, as well as the catch-up vaccination for all persons under the age of 40 who have not yet had chickenpox or smallpox. However, for several months GlaxoSmithKline has been unable to supply the Varilrix chickenpox vaccine due to quality controls.
Mr. Berger, was the start of the chickenpox vaccination campaign unfavorable at the beginning of this year?
No, I wouldn’t say that. We had informed the companies concerned in good time that the new recommendation from the Federal Commission for Vaccination and the Federal Office of Public Health would lead to a sharp increase in demand. However, we also knew that GlaxoSmithKline was already having problems supplying Varilrix back then. As it looks now, production there will not be back to normal until August. But the other chickenpox vaccine, Varivax by pharmaceutical company MSD, is still available. Both are live vaccines with weakened viruses, which have to be constantly and laboriously checked for each batch produced.
Nevertheless, the chickenpox vaccine is now missing in many children’s practices, so that parents are sent home with their babies. What is your advice?
It’s best to ask sometime after the summer holidays if it’s available again. This is of course very tedious for all parents, as it is another appointment and means a lot of extra work. Nevertheless, the causative agents of chickenpox, the so-called varicella, are not suddenly more dangerous than in previous years.
Is vaccination against chickenpox necessary at all?
Yes, that’s why we’ve adjusted the vaccination schedule. In 2021, 45 countries around the world recommended vaccination against chickenpox for all young children, including Germany, Austria, Australia, Canada and the USA. Switzerland has now followed suit. But whether the vaccination takes place a little earlier or later in the year doesn’t play such a big role in chickenpox.
The chickenpox caused by the so-called varicella-zoster virus (VZV) is usually mild in childhood. On the other hand, the risk of complications is much higher when adolescents and adults develop it. Because the pathogens stay in the body forever and can later trigger serious shingles. If an infant is already vaccinated, he has efficient protection for himself and also does not transmit the virus to other people.
What is the level of protection after the first vaccine dose?
It is around 80 percent. This means that the probability of a serious infection and in particular a serious infection with varicella in an infant or young child is significantly reduced with the first dose of vaccination. As a rule, it is therefore not a problem at the moment if the second vaccination dose is not given at the age of 13 months, but only a few months or even a few years later. The new vaccination schedule recommends two doses.
The combination vaccine Priorix Tetra from GlaxoSmithKline against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox should not be available again until July. Do parents have to be patient here too?
In the event of bottlenecks, it is advisable to switch to the multiple vaccine Proquad from MSD, which is still available. Or to inject the babies and toddlers in good time first with a triple vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella and later with the single vaccine against chickenpox. Above all, protection against measles is very important in the first years of life. The current problem with the multiple vaccine Priorix Tetra is also caused by the production of the chickenpox vaccine at GlaxoSmithKline. In addition, due to the general increase in demand due to the new vaccination recommendation, tens of thousands of children have already been vaccinated against chickenpox for the first time in the past few months alone.