On 1 July 2017, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine was added to the National Immunisation Schedule (NIS) for children at age 15 months.
Varicella is extremely common in children, and although serious complications are rare, hospitalisation from severe complications of varicella have increased in recent years. The virus can also remain dormant and, when re-activated, can lead to shingles in adulthood.
The introduction offered one dose of the varicella vaccine for children at 15 months old, to be administered alongside the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (MMR), Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine (Hib) and pneumococcal disease vaccinations; and one dose of the varicella vaccine for unvaccinated children at 11 years old who have not previously had chickenpox.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the implementation of the National Immunisation Programme and the NIS. In accordance with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, the Ministry commissioned Allen + Clarke to evaluate the introduction of the varicella vaccine, using the new vaccine Post-Introduction Evaluation (PIE) tool to measure the impact of the introduction on the National Immunisation Programme and immunisation services.
The evaluation focused on the Ministry’s role and responsibilities related to the implementation of the varicella vaccine. The purpose of the evaluation was to:
- provide the Ministry with information on the implementation of the varicella vaccine introduction, including identifying barriers and any challenges associated with the vaccine implementation, and
- provide recommendations for the future implementation of new vaccines.
The evaluation concluded that communication and education/training to the health sector and the public exceeded expectations, and performance on all other criteria met expectations.
Several recommendations were made:
- to continue our current approach to education, training and resources
- clarify expectations around using two vaccinators and splitting vaccines
- continue to monitor varicella vaccine coverage
- reinforce messaging around cold chain updates
- communicate more frequently with PMS providers as they develop updates in response to future NIS changes.
The Ministry is incorporating these recommendations in its planning for future changes to the NIS.