The phone's distinct tone and flashing lights interrupted my focus as I sat in surgery finishing off my paperwork. I was anxiously expecting the call and answered hurriedly so as to not miss the news that may sign my children over to two weeks of misery.
"Anything?" I said with trepidation.
"Nothing, nothing at all" Mr Y replied.
"Are you sure? Did you check properly? I mean, check everywhere?"
"Of course I did! No sign of it."
His tone of voice was very definite, he had of course gone on this rambling search numerous times before. It was a familiar conversation we had every time either the four or two year old had a feverish illness and a rash appeared that teased us with the risk that it may develop into the characteristic lesions of chickenpox. I had, until last week, sat on the fence about whether to pay privately to vaccinate my children against this illness. After nearly 5 years of waiting with bated breath every time a rash appeared on their soft baby skin we decided to go ahead and vaccinate.
It may seem entirely strange as to why we decided now to do it, as of course whilst pondering this issue they could have easily contracted it and the decision been removed from us. I suppose to that end we were more in the camp of thought that it won't be pleasant but they all have to go through it at some point, right? The eldest was a nursery goer from seven months where there were outbreaks of chickenpox and the usual minor illnesses, quite how he dodged it amazes me. But, they both have, which made us re-visit the idea of the chickenpox vaccine.
The main reason I hesitated from getting the children jabbed before, particularly with my daughter, was in being unsure about the strength of immunity with the vaccine. Chickenpox contracted naturally generally gives you lifelong immunity, very rarely people can get a repeated round of it however, so nothing is 100%. If she chooses to have children when she's older, contracting chicken pox in pregnancy can cause rare but serious complications in the fetus.
Personally, having researched, I am more reassured by knowing that immunity after a second dose of chickenpox vaccination is 98% (figure from Public Health England). If my children fall in that 2% of non-immune they are surrounded by enough chickenpox cases in their contemporaries to still be exposed. The World Health Organisation (WHO) comments that in cases of break through chickenpox infection in those who've had a vaccine, 95% of moderate cases are prevented and 100% of severe cases. This is enough for me to also vaccinate, knowing there may be a very small risk they'll get it anyway but at least it'll decrease the seriousness of the illness.
Therein lies my primary reason for having them vaccinated; the severe cases. Now, I fully hold my hands up to the fact that my exposure to very unusual outcomes of illness are skewed being a doctor. I also fully accept that chicken pox is mostly a straight forward illness with limited complications. But, having knowledge of children with very rare side effects of brain inflammation (encephalitis) and quite severe secondary skin infections, I must admit this has weighed in heavy on my decision making process. I am aware that all vaccines can have side effects, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports it as a safe vaccine with minimal complications.
Speaking to a friend with the same age children who recently had uncomplicated chickenpox, he felt having watched their discomfort for 2 weeks and the resultant scars, that retrospectively he would have vaccinated them. Other parents I know have gone for the vaccination for their eldest whilst being pregnant with the next child to avoid a case of new born chickenpox, which can be quite serious. On the other hand, there are also parents I have spoken to (doctors included) who are aware of the vaccine and have opted to not give it, as it is mostly a benign childhood condition.
Interestingly, I have realised the decision to give my children the vaccination is very much based on the fact that it is not currently part of the national programme in England, so rate of vaccination is very low. The reason being that the WHO state that vaccine uptake at below 30% or that over 80% would be needed in areas to decrease chances of catching chickenpox at an older age, when severity and outcomes are not as favourable.
Childhood vaccination is always a controversial issue and I can fully understand the choice to not vaccinate for chickenpox as well. I realise I am fortunate to deliberate on this issue as the vaccine has to be paid for privately. On balance, for us personally we decided to go for it. Decision made, I took them along to the clinic last week, a slight tear abated by a pack of chocolate buttons and a sticker and we were in and out in about 10 minutes. I must say, I did feel a sense of relief as we left.