More information about who should not have the vaccine
People who are clinically immunosuppressed should not have this vaccine because the vaccine strain could replicate too much and cause a serious infection. This includes babies whose mothers have had immunosuppressive treatment while they were pregnant or breastfeeding. For more information see the MHRA's Drug Safety Update (April 2016).
The chickenpox vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women as a matter of caution. However, studies have not shown any link between the weakened virus in the vaccine and any specific problems in babies born to women who received a chickenpox vaccine while they were pregnant. These have not shown any link between the weakened virus in the vaccine and any specific problems in babies born to these women. See this Public Health England statement for more information.
Studies have shown that the vaccine virus does not get passed to the baby through breast milk, so it is safe for breast-feeding women to be vaccinated (see the Green Book chapter on Varicella, page 438).
Why the chickenpox vaccine is not offered routinely in the UK
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), who makes recommendations to the UK Government on vaccine policy, released a statement on the 14th of November 2023 recommending that the chickenpox vaccine should be introduced as part of the routine childhood schedule. This would be a two-dose schedule at 12 and 18 months using the combined MMRV (measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine).
Data from other countries that include the chickenpox vaccine as part of their routine schedules show that cases of chickenpox in children will reduce rapidly. A catch-up programme is also recommended following this policy change to ensure there isn’t an immunity gap.
Previous recommendations were made based on the data available at the time, and it was thought that cases of shingles in older people would increase if the chickenpox vaccine was included in the immunisation schedule.
Shingles is very expensive for the NHS to treat. It was believed that many adults in the UK get their immunity to chickenpox boosted by coming into contact with children who have the disease. Several studies have shown that this may make adults less likely to develop shingles as they get older.
However, the JCVI has reviewed data from other countries where the vaccine has been in routine use over the past decade or two. The data do not show that the chickenpox vaccination programmes increase the cases of shingles.
See the JCVI statement here.
Information about other treatments
A treatment called human varicella zoster immunoglobulin (VZIG) is given to people in risk groups who have been exposed to chickenpox. Immunoglobulins are special concentrated antibody preparations which provide immediate short-term protection against disease. VZIG can help to reduce the severity of chickenpox symptoms for some people in risk groups.
Chickenpox vaccine outside of the UK
The chickenpox vaccine currently available in the UK is a single vaccine. However, several countries use a vaccine that combines the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine with a chickenpox (varicella) vaccine, called the MMRV vaccine. The MMRV vaccine is the recommended vaccine by the JCVI.
For children aged two and younger, studies have shown that more of them develop fever after the MMRV vaccine, compared with giving the MMR vaccine and the chickenpox vaccine separately on the same day. In particular, there is an increased risk of febrile convulsions (fits). These occur 7-10 days after MMRV vaccination. Febrile seizures are unlikely to cause long-term effects and the overall risk is very low.