Chickenpox deaths in children: ‘a thing of the past’?

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

August 5th, 2011

Gary Finnegan

‘The varicella vaccination programme has dramatically reduced the number of children dying from chickenpox, leading experts to proclaim that the most severe outcomes of the virus could be eliminated.’

ChickenpoxThe varicella zoster virus (VZV) – which causes chickenpox and shingles – has been preventable since the mid-1990s thanks to the widespread introduction of a vaccine in developed countries.

In the first six years since its adoption, the one-dose vaccination schedule reduced deaths by 66% overall and by 74% in previously healthy people younger than 50 years.

Since the publication of those impressive figures, vaccination coverage has increased substantially.

Now, new evidence published by US authorities in Pediatrics – the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics – reveals that the decline in varicella mortality rate is now 88% overall and 96% among people below 50.

The report is based on statistics from the US National Center for Health Statistics and compares mortality rates from the period 2002-2007 with trends prior to the introduction of the vaccine.

Across all age groups, the death rate from varicella-related illnesses fell from 0.41 per million population in the early 1990s to 0.05 million population in 2007.

In the last six years analyzed (2002-2008), a total of three deaths per age range were reported among children aged one to four and five to nine years. In the pre-vaccine era, annual death rates averaged at 13 and 16 deaths, respectively.

The authors – Mona Marin, John X. Zhang and Jane F. Seward from the CDC – said the current two-dose vaccination schedule has the potential to end deaths from varicella altogether.

“The impressive decline in varicella deaths can be directly attributed to successful implementation of the one-dose vaccination program. With the current two-dose program, there is potential that these most severe outcomes of a vaccine-preventable disease could be eliminated,” the authors conclude.