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Southern Families to Benefit from Free Chicken Pox Vaccine

Good news for families living in the Southern District: from 1 July children aged 15 months and 11 years of age will be able to access the varicella (chicken pox) vaccination free of charge.

The vaccination will be administered to infants born after 1 April 2016 during their 15 month immunisation visit, providing them with good levels of protection from chicken pox. Just a single dose of the vaccination will provide effective protection against the virus. In addition, older children who have not caught chicken pox or received the vaccine will also be able to access the free vaccination when they turn 11.

The introduction of the free vaccination is being welcomed by the southern health community as Naomi Gough, Medical Officer for Public Health South, explains:

“Each year approximately 50,000 New Zealanders, most of them children, contract chicken pox. The illness typically lasts between 5 and 10 days and as well as being a horrible experience for children, parents and caregivers will need to keep a child home, for up to two weeks, to stop them spreading the disease to others. This means potential time off work and, if there are other children in the house, they too have a high chance of catching chicken pox, which in turn means more time off.”

For some children the impact is more serious: “Some children are hospitalised with chicken pox, which is a significant and serious event for not only a child but also for their family,” says Dr Gough. “What’s more it can lead to long term disability in children and some even die from the disease. The changes being introduced will help to dramatically reduce the incidence of chicken pox in our communities and in turn reduce hospitalisations, disability and mortality outcomes related to the virus.”

According to Dr Gough, many parents still have a complacent attitude when it comes to chicken pox, “Parents need to take the disease more seriously. Some see chicken pox as a ‘rite of passage’ for children but in fact this completely preventable disease makes kids utterly miserable and can have numerous negative consequences. It makes complete sense to protect your child, your community and your family from the impacts of chicken pox.”

The introduction of the vaccine to the immunisation schedule in other countries such as the USA and the UK has led to a dramatic reduction in the incidence of chicken pox amongst younger children. Queenstown mother-of-three Justine Barnett knows first-hand how upsetting chicken pox can be for children and their families. “Last year my 6-year-old son Xavier had a really bad case of chicken pox, even the doctors said they hadn’t seen one that bad for a long time. He got really big blisters, they were awful. He had it quite severely for a good 10 days, and then about two or three weeks later my 3-year-old caught it. I was pregnant at the time so I had to check

I was immune, it was a really full-on time.”

She is pleased that her youngest child Killian will be able to benefit from the introduction of the free vaccination. “I think it’s a good idea…. It was horrible to see the pain my kids were in, Xavier was so miserable. Hopefully the free vaccination will help to reduce future outbreaks.”

Theresa Hurring, Practice Nurse at Dunedin North Medical Centre, supports the move to free varicella vaccinations for her community: “We see some children become really unwell with chicken pox. Unfortunately, there’s quite an outbreak here at the moment, and because of the low levels of protection in the community it circulates quite easily. We’ve had quite a few parents choosing to pay for the vaccination for their children, but many can’t afford the cost so the move to a free vaccination for young children will be wonderful for those families. Plus, with more children immunised young it will help us to increase the herd immunity against the virus over time, which also protects those other vulnerable people.”

About varicella (chicken pox)

- For some children catching chicken pox can result in hospitalisation; hundreds end up in hospital each year, and for some it can result in life long disabilities or death. For children with a supressed immune system the risk in intensified. Children with leukaemia who catch chicken pox have a 40% chance of dying from the disease.

- There is also a risk for pregnant women who have a small chance of passing the disease to their unborn baby, which can cause serious complications.

- The vaccination is not suitable for children who are immunocompromised, who have untreated TB, anaphylaxis to neomycin or are on salicylates.

For more information about varicella (chicken pox) visit or visit


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