Matthew Theunissen

Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

NZ running low on chickenpox vaccines

File photo / Natalie Slade
File photo / Natalie Slade

New Zealand is running low on chickenpox vaccines as more parents seek to have their children immunised and as winter approaches.

Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has announced it is out of stock of its Varilrix vaccine and is getting an emergency shipment from Belgium. It hopes it will be back in stock within a fortnight.

GSK New Zealand general manager Anna Stove said there had been a notable increase in demand for the vaccine, with a 37 per cent increase in sales on this time last year.

"Demand for the vaccine has increased dramatically, which we believe has mainly been driven by media news around the importance of parents considering immunisation against chickenpox."

There is an alternative vaccine, Varivax, but it is not recommended for babies under 12 months.

Paediatrician Marguerite Dalton, medical adviser for the Immunisation Advisory Centre, said there was always a peak in the number of cases of chickenpox at the start of winter.

"It's a contagious disease and kids are spending more time indoors, mixing with each other and coughing and spluttering."

Rather than being concerned about a vaccine shortage, Dr Dalton said it was a good sign.

"I find it quite exciting because it shows that we've finally got the message through to people that there is a vaccine and it's really effective and it's a jolly good idea to have it.

"If you have the chickenpox vaccine you might get a sore arm, but get chickenpox and you'll have a horrible high temperature, you're itchy and scratchy, and you can't eat because your mouth's so sore. And then on top of that you might get secondary problems like infected sores, ear infections and chest infections. Which would prefer?"

Hutt Valley mother of three Rochelle Gribble, who also runs parenting advice website kiwifamilies.co.nz, said the debate on whether or not to immunise against chickenpox still raged among parents she knew.

Some parents even elected to take their children to "pox parties" where children are deliberately exposed to other children with the illness to avoid them getting it later in life, when it can be more harmful.

"Parents are generally in two camps: there's those who say 'I got chickenpox and I survived so I don't care if my children get it, they'll live it'. Then there's the parents who think 'why on earth wouldn't you give the vaccination to your children when it works?'."

She had chosen to immunise her three girls against the disease.

"I think that if my children can avoid getting it at all, I don't see why I wouldn't vaccinate them.

"Science has a lot to offer in health and I think the chickenpox vaccination looks like one of those to me. No pox parties for my children."

Chickenpox vaccinations are not funded by the Government's drug-buying agency Pharmac and they cost between $50 and $100.

The issue of chickenpox and rotavirus vaccinations are due to go to Pharmac's main clinical advisory committee later this month and could be funded by the end of the year.

CHICKENPOX

* People with chickenpox have small blisters on their skin which can be very itchy. Symptoms also include tiredness, fever, aches and pains

* Very occasionally it can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, problems with the kidneys, heart, joints or nervous system. Chickenpox is also serious for pregnant women

* Chickenpox usually clears up within 3 to 7 days for adults and 5 to 10 days for children

* The virus is spread through the air by infected people when they sneeze or cough, and by touching the chickenpox blisters

* If you've already had chickenpox you're probably immune, but if you had a very mild case it is possible to get chickenpox again, but this is very rare

Source: Ministry of Health

- APNZ

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