Giving children chickenpox vaccines could bring an end to risky pox parties, experts have said.
The jabs are not part of the NHS childhood immunisation schedule, but the committee which advises UK health departments on shots is considering whether to recommend they be added.
About three-quarters of parents would support routine chickenpox jabs for their children, according to new research published in the journal Vaccine.
Dr Sue Sherman, author of the study and reader in psychology at Keele University, said that while usually mild, chickenpox can be a “severe illness” for some youngsters and may lead to hospitalisation and death.
For most, it causes spots, high temperature and headaches, and – because it is more serious for adults – parents sometimes deliberately expose their children to the infection to ensure they catch it while they are young.
Study co-author Professor Helen Bedford, professor of children’s health at University College London, said: “This is sometimes done at ‘chickenpox parties’.”
But this is not recommended, she warned, because in rare cases chickenpox infection may result in pneumonia, bacterial infections and swelling in the brain.
Children who have recently had the infection, which is caused by the varicella zoster virus, are also more likely to develop serious forms of Strep A.
Strep A cases have been much higher than normal this winter, likely as a result of withdrawing protective health measures implemented during the COVID pandemic.
What is Strep A and what’s invasive Strep A?
Currently, chickenpox jabs are only available to people who demonstrate a clinical need, such as those who are not immune and in close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system.
But they are offered to children routinely in other countries, including the US, Japan and Australia.
Professor Bedford added: “Adding the chickenpox vaccine to the schedule will ensure that children are protected against the infection.”
Parents can be “reassured” that it is used around the world and “has a good safety record”, she added.
The committee looking into chickenpox jabs is the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which advised UK health departments on who should get COVID shots.