Southampton doctors trial new vaccine to protect children against chickenpox

Doctors in Southampton are trialling a new vaccine which can protect children against chickenpox.

The illness, which is caused by a virus known as varicella-zoster, causes a rash of red, itchy spots that turn into blisters and affects most children at some point.

While the condition is usually mild and lasts for a period of five to 10 days, it can sometimes cause serious problems such as pneumonia or swelling of the brain (encephalitis), as well as skin infections.

The study, being conducted at the NIHR Wellcome Trust Southampton Clinical Research Facility and three other centres in the UK, will investigate the safety and effectiveness of a new version of the vaccine Varilrix.

Although the vaccine was licensed in the UK in 2013 and is currently used in around 33 countries, including Germany and the USA, it is not currently part of the UK’s routine childhood vaccination schedule.

The vaccine is estimated to offer 98% protection against chickenpox in children and 75% protection in adolescents and adults – but is only offered in the UK to children and adults who are particularly vulnerable to complications of the illness, such as those with a weakened immune system.

“We are extremely pleased to be part of this exciting trial and to be able to offer families in Southampton and its surrounding areas the opportunity for their child to be involved in this research,” said Dr Katrina Cathie, a consultant paediatrician and principal investigator for the study at Southampton Children’s Hospital.

“While chickenpox is often a mild illness which last for one or two weeks, it can still be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for children while, in the worst cases – particularly among those with underlying health conditions – it can lead on to respiratory infection, skin infection and brain inflammation.”

She added: “Through this study, we will find out if a new version of the vaccine is better than the current version. We already know from previous studies that they are equally effective, but this study is looking at the temperature of the children after the vaccine to see if there is any increase in the rate of fever.”

The study is open to children aged between 12 to 23 months with no serious underlying health conditions who have not previously been vaccinated against chickenpox and who have had their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Anyone who is interested in registering their child to participate in the study can call the research team 023 8120 4989, email UHS.RecruitmentCRF@nhs.net or visit www.chickenpoxvaccinestudy.co.uk.

Posted on Wednesday 2 March 2016