Chickenpox vaccine tied to lower pediatric shingles rate, study finds

Henrietta Strickland
June 12, 2019

Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine, we have known how effective it is in preventing children from contracting that itchy and painful disease, but we set out to determine if the vaccine would also reduce risk of herpes zoster.

The researchers discovered that 9,044 children who didn't receive the vaccination developed shingles versus 5,339 children who did receive the vaccination. A study out today finds that children who didn't get the vaccine were four times more likely to get shingles before the age of 17. The immune system usually suppresses symptoms of the virus, which include skin rashes and persistent nerve pain. For the second study, the group looked at medical records of almost 6.4 million children under the age of 18, calculating rates of shingles over 12 years. Over the 12-year period, the rate of shingles dropped 72 percent among all children.

Researchers found that, overall, HZ risk is much lower in vaccinated than unvaccinated children. Will the chickenpox vaccine have any effect on older people who have a greater risk of shingles?

Older people are most susceptible to developing shingles due to their weakened immune systems, but younger people can also get shingles. Approximately 50% of the children were vaccinated for some or all of the study period. But that difference quickly reversed.

The researchers studied 6.4 million children under 18, half of whom had the chickenpox vaccine. By age 4, the rates of shingles among unvaccinated children started to climb; among vaccinated children, it declined slightly and then remained at a low and relatively stable rate. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.

Weinmann said it's not clear how long the protection against shingles will last.

And what will happen to these children decades later, after they reach 60?

Herd immunity protects those with vulnerable immune systems.

This retrospective study reported the herpes zoster infection rates were higher in girls than in boys and were higher for those who received just 1 dose of varicella vaccine, compared to those who received the 2 doses recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP).

Varivax is the chickenpox-only vaccine while Proquad provides protection from measles, mumps, rubella, as well as varicella.

"We looked at the incidence rates of HZ overall, at how many cases there were per 100,000 person-years, including by age and gender", noted Weinmann.

Whether the vaccinated children will continue to have lower rates of shingles as they move into the later stages of life remains to be seen, Gershon said, as does whether those vaccinated in childhood will need a varicella booster vaccine at some point in adulthood.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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