ABU DHABI // Babies will be given free chickenpox jabs from Monday.
Parents of children born on or after September 1 last year can get their children vaccinated with the varicella vaccine, which protects against the contagious, viral disease. The vaccine is compulsory for nationals and expatriates, said Dr Farida al Hosani, the section head of communicable disease at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD).
It will become part of the HAAD's national immunisation programme, which was introduced in 1978 and includes shots against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough. Some 7,219 cases of chickenpox were recorded in the emirate last year. However, the true figure may be higher because the disease is often not serious in children. Since the chickenpox vaccine became available in the US in 1995, the number of cases has plummeted from four million each year to around 400,000 in 2005.
The number of hospital cases and deaths from the illness declined by more than 90 per cent. Dr Mona Rifai, a specialist paediatrician working in Abu Dhabi, said that although chickenpox was rarely dangerous in children, it could have serious consequences and was extremely dangerous in adults. "Some of the severe complications that set in with chickenpox are diseases like pneumonia and respiratory infections, and chickenpox can be very severe in adults," she said.
The vaccine should be given to babies around the time of their first birthday. It has been available in the UAE since 2000, but only on the recommendation of doctors to their patients.