Why Switzerland wants babies to be vaccinated against chickenpox
In their updated guidelines for 2023, Swiss health officials are recommending immunising infants against this contagious childhood illness by their first birthday.
The shots are recommended at nine and 12 months, to be administered at the same time as the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, according to new recommendations released on Monday by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) and the Federal Vaccination Commission.
In issuing these guidelines, to go into effect on January 1st, 2023, Switzerland is joining 45 other countries that recommend chickenpox vaccine as part of their public health policies.
Why are Swiss health authorities recommending this vaccine?
There are two main reasons: health and economic.
On the health front, although chickenpox is generally considered to be a mild disease with no long-term side effects, it is not always harmless, according to FOPH.
“Out of 100,000 patients, one to two children die of complications; among those over 16, the number of deaths is around 20 per 100,000”, health officials say.
However, “routine vaccination from early childhood reduces the burden of disease in all age groups. In the medium term, it will also reduce the number of cases of shingles in children and young adults, as well as, in the long term, in older people”.
Shingles is a painful skin condition caused by the dormant chickenpox virus, but it is believed that vaccines protect against it; research shows that kids who were immunised against chickenpox had a 78-percent lower risk of developing shingles.
But there are economic benefits as well.
Specifically, the number of days that parents take off work to care for their children who catch chickenpox would drop.
While the costs generated by large-scale vaccination campaign would increase slightly, overall healthcare costs are likely fall, FOPH points out.
The reason is that "the number of cases would decrease by 88 to 90 percent, that of hospitalisations by 62 to 69 percent, and that of deaths by 75 to 77 percent”.
Additionally, costs for chickenpox-related doctor visits would go down as well.
‘Recommendation’ does not mean ‘obligation’
Many parents may not want to immunise their young children against chickenpox, believing it is not necessary to do so.
It is important to keep in mind that the government is merely recommending the vaccine, not making it mandatory.
The topic of compulsory vaccinations reached a head during the Covid pandemic, with some strongly opposing what they considered to be an untested and potentially harmful injection.
However, the Swiss government repeatedly said that there would be no mandatory jab order — either for Covid or other infectious diseases.
That is because everyone in Switzerland has a constitutional right to “self-determination”, including in matters of health.
In fact, even though the government recommends a number of childhood vaccines (including measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, mumps, and rubella), it is up to parents to decide whether to follow these official recommendations.
And since immunisations are not mandatory, no public school can turn away a child because he or she had not had the recommended shots.
However, the key word here is “public”. Private schools can make their own rules.
In 2019, for the first time in Switzerland, a network of private nursery schools called Kita ruled that all children attending their facilities must be vaccinated against at least measles and whooping cough. If parents refuse to comply, the children will be denied attendance.
Generally speaking, any private institution can deny admission to unvaccinated children, as they are not held to the same standards as public schools; however, no official data shows any other private establishments following Kita’s example to date.