Delivering a Healthy WA
Disease WAtch

Campaign bid to boost varicella vaccination rates

Varicella (chickenpox) is a common, highly contagious disease caused by varicella-zoster virus. Varicella infection causes a generalised itchy rash and blisters. It typically starts on the trunk and face and spreads to the limbs.

Most children who get varicella have a mild illness but some can become quite ill. Infection is, on average, more severe in adults and can cause serious and occasional fatal illnesses in people with low immunity (including pregnant women).

Under the national immunisation program (NIP), the varicella vaccine is provided free to all children aged 18 months of age. This vaccine is now included in the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as a combination vaccine – MMRV. The varicella vaccine is also offered through the year 8 school-based immunisation program.

In Western Australia, uptake of the varicella vaccine is lower than for other vaccines. From July 2014 it was added to the list of vaccines required for a child to be considered ‘fully vaccinated’ on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR). This change is likely to lower the state’s immunisation rates to below the nationally accepted target of 90%.

The low vaccine uptake and potential severity of disease, particularly in adults, has led to a decision by WA Health to launch a chickenpox campaign in August 2014.

WA Health recently conducted a survey to determine parents’ level of knowledge and attitudes to chickenpox. The survey found that parents’ main reasons for not accessing the varicella vaccine were that they did not consider it as effective as natural immunity and did not see chickenpox as a serious disease. The results highlighted a need to raise awareness of the potential severity of varicella and the importance of vaccination. The campaign will thus be aimed primarily at parents of pre-school children.

The community component of the campaign will consist of radio messages, targeted website advertising and some print advertising in community newspapers.

Posters and brochures will also be sent to general practices, local councils, hospitals, childcare centres, Medicare Locals and Centrelink offices to raise awareness among immunisation providers.

The campaign is scheduled to run from mid-July to the end of August 2014.

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