Rotavirus, varicella vaccines added to national immunisation schedule 17 December 2013 The addition of rotavirus vaccine to the list of funded vaccines will have a long-lasting positive effect on children’s health, says PHARMAC Medical Director Dr John Wyeth. PHARMAC has announced the rotavirus and varicella vaccines will be added to the national immunisation schedule, along with improved versions of previously funded vaccines such as the pneumococcal vaccine Prevenar 13. The changes to the national immunisation schedule will come into place from 1 July 2014. Rotavirus is a gastric infection mainly affecting children, causing illness and diarrhoea that can lead to hospital admission. In severe cases, the infection can be fatal. A universally funded vaccine had been sought by paediatricians, and this was recognised in the PHARMAC decision, says Dr Wyeth. Adding rotavirus to the immunisation schedule is estimated to cost $6.3 million per year. “Rotavirus is a serious infection that causes children to become very unwell, and we have responded to the calls for this to be added to the national immunisation schedule,” says Dr Wyeth. “Adding this vaccine to the national schedule is a very positive step for children’s health in New Zealand, and adds to the considerable protection the immunisation schedule already offers.” “Vaccinating all children against rotavirus infection will reduce the likelihood of their becoming ill in this way. As well as reducing this risk for children and parents, the immunisation programme is likely to reduce demand for acute admissions to hospitals.” PHARMAC estimates that, nationwide, up to 1200 hospital admissions per year could be avoided through rotavirus vaccination. The rotavirus vaccine is given while babies are very young – within the first eight months – and is an oral liquid that is easily administered to infants. Dr Wyeth says this may have benefits in children obtaining other vaccines as well, leading to higher rates of immunisation, one of the Government’s key health goals. PHARMAC has also confirmed that varicella (chickenpox) vaccine will be funded to protect the most at-risk patients – children with reduced immune systems (for example, because of chemotherapy). It will also be funded for people in direct contact with these children, a practice known as `cocooning’. The existing pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, Synflorix, will be replaced by Prevenar 13 for all eligible patients. Prevenar 13 offers protection against an additional three strains of invasive pneumococcal disease over its predecessor. And PHARMAC has also decided to list improved versions of the current meningococcal vaccine, changing to a conjugated meningococcal C or meningococcal A, C, Y and W135 vaccine. PHARMAC also decided to expand eligibility rules so that children whose immune systems are weakened, for example by chemotherapy, will be able to have further vaccine boosters funded.