Varicella vaccination in Europe: are we ready for a universal childhood programme?
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- Sengupta, N., Booy, R., Schmitt, H.J. et al. Eur J Pediatr (2008) 167: 47. doi:10.1007/s00431-007-0424-0
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Safe and effective vaccines against varicella zoster virus (VZV), the aetiological agent of varicella and shingles, have been available in Europe for the last 5–10 years. The USA has had a universal childhood vaccination policy since 1995 and this has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the incidence, morbidity and mortality related to varicella. The economic and medical burden of VZV has led to discussions regarding both the desirability and feasability of a similar routine immunisation policy for all European children. This article examines the epidemiology of varicella in Europe and how the data emerging from the USA can be used to achieve adequate prevention of the disease. It looks into the current evidence of the health economic evaluation of universal varicella vaccination and explores the concerns surrounding such a policy, including the postulated impact on the incidence of zoster. In conclusion, the Society of Independent European Vaccination Experts (SIEVE) recommends that the immunisation of susceptible adolescents needs to be urgently implemented, in addition to the current recommendations targeting high-risk patients, their close contacts with a negative history of varicella and seronegative health-care workers. A universal policy, optimally incorporating a two-dose schedule, will be needed to finally reduce the burden of disease of varicella from a societal point of view. The SIEVE recommends the implementation of such a policy as soon as financially and practically possible.