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Uptake of chickenpox vaccine surprises

Published: 8:11AM Monday May 27, 2013 Source: ONE News

New supplies of the chickenpox vaccine are due to arrive today after a big increase in demand led to stocks running low.

With a 37% increase in chickenpox vaccine demand compared to this time last year GlaxoSmithKline alerted general practices that Varilrix will be out of stock in the next fortnight.

The Ministry of Social Development has confirmed that supplies of the alternative varicella (chickenpox) vaccine were estimated to run out in about a week.

The winter season and recent media coverage are key reasons why there has been an increase in demand, GlaxoSmithKline general manager Anna Stove said.

Michael Baker from Otago University's public health department said chickenpox can be a very serious illness, with 150-200 people hospitalised with it every year. And he said on average one child dies every year.

Professor Baker told Breakfast this morning that the bigger uptake of the vaccination has surprised the importer. He said New Zealand parents are getting much more confident about vaccinations and coverage is rising across the board.

"Parents now realise their child doesn't have to get this unpleasant illness," Baker said, adding that the result means parents don't have to take a week off work to look after them.

The new supplies of Varilrix won't be immediately available to the public however patients can still get the Varivax vaccine.

Patients are recommended to have two doses of the varicella vaccine for 95% effectiveness. One dose of the vaccine is 80 to 85% effective against the disease.

Varilrix and Varivax can be mixed and matched if one or the other is not available.

Doctors have been calling for the vaccine to be Government funded and Pharmac is considering whether to add it to the National Immunisation Schedule. Varicella vaccines cost about $77 per dose which translates to about $50-$70 for the public.

Baker said most vaccines are very cost effective but chickenpox has been a "bit on the margin in the past".

The vaccine is not funded in the United Kingdom but has been part of the American schedule since the mid-1990s and was introduced in Australia in 2005.