The Government will consider whether children should be vaccinated against chickenpox

Children could be vaccinated against chickenpox with a four-in- one injection under plans being considered by Government scientists.

The researchers are investigating whether a vaccine should be combined with MMR to create a new multijab.

The proposal is highly controversial because a chickenpox vaccine could cause thousands of adults to develop the painful condition shingles later in life.

Some campaigners also warn there is a danger of children becoming “over-vaccinated”.

The Government revealed yesterday that it had asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to investigate whether a mass roll-out is necessary.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The work is at a very early stage. The committee considers a wide variety of issues around vaccination and immunisation.
“Any recommendation to make a change to the programme is only put forward after a lengthy and thorough consideration of all the evidence.”

Chickenpox is a highly-contagious virus and more than nine in 10 children have had it by the age of 15. Its effects are usually mild in children although in rare cases it can cause death from toxic shock syndrome and pneumonia.

Earlier this summer five-year old Christopher Rixon from south west London died from chickenpox. He was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties after developing complications.

It is more serious in adulthood and is particularly dangerous if caught by pregnant women because it can give their baby brain damage and blindness. The disease causes about 20 deaths in Britain every year.

The chickenpox vaccine is routine in the US but experts in the UK say any benefits must be weighed against the possibility that it could cause shingles in adults.

Shingles is caused by the reactivation in the body of the chickenpox virus which has been dormant since childhood. It manifests itself as a headache, fever with a tingling sensation and is normally accompanied by a characteristic rash. The committee is also considering whether to vaccinate adults against shingles.

Children are recommended to have 13 jabs up to the age of 18 – ten of them before the age of two.

The Government has also given the go-ahead to a vaccine against the HPV virus which can cause cervical cancer in later life. Jackie Fletcher of the anti-MMR campaign group JABS said adding chickenpox to the mix would be one too many. “The fear has to be that another jab would overload vulnerable children,” she said.
“It is a benign illness in most children and there is a danger that if a vaccine is introduced it could push chickenpox into adulthood when it could be far more serious.”
She added: “We have enough problems with the MMR vaccine and more studies should be carried out on that before we even think about introducing another vaccine.”

Two weeks ago the Health Protection Agency issued an unprecedented plea to parents to have the MMR jab after a sharp rise in the number of children catching measles.

Take-up of the controversial vaccine, which also protects against mumps and rubella, or German measles, slumped after Dr Andrew Wakefield linked it to autism. But his claims were rubbished by the medical community and he is now facing being struck off by the General Medical Council.

Take-up of MMR is now on the rise again although it is not yet at recommended levels.