The effect of vaccination on the epidemiology of varicella zoster virus

W J Edmunds, M Brisson
Journal of Infection 2002, 44 (4): 211-9
Varicella zoster virus (VZV) causes chickenpox (varicella) on primary exposure and can reactivate later in life to cause shingles (zoster). As primary infection is more serious in adults than children, and exposure to the virus might boost the immune response to both chickenpox and shingles, there are two main concerns regarding infant VZV vaccination: that it could lead to an increase in adult disease; and/or that it could lead to a temporary increase in the incidence of shingles. This paper reviews the evidence for such outcomes. The consensus view of mathematical modelling studies is that the overall varicella associated burden is likely to decrease in the long term, regardless of the level of vaccine coverage. On the other hand, recent evidence suggests that an increase in zoster incidence appears likely, and the more effective vaccination is at preventing varicella, the larger the increase in zoster incidence. Targeted vaccination of susceptible adolescents and/or the contacts of high-risk individuals can be effective at preventing disease in these individuals with minimal risk to the community. However, targeted strategies would not prevent most disease (including most severe disease), and will not lead to a long-term reduction in the incidence of zoster. Understanding the mechanisms for maintaining immunity against varicella and zoster is critical for predicting the long-term effects of vaccination. Meanwhile sensitive surveillance of both chickenpox and shingles is essential in countries that have implemented, or are about to implement, varicella vaccination.

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