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Nationwide chicken pox vaccination begins, fifth graders get the jab this autumn

Beginning this autumn, all schoolchildren in fifth grade or younger who have not contracted varicella - better known as chicken pox - will be vaccinated as part of a national programme to eliminate the disease in Finland, according to the National Institute for Health and Welfare.

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Image: AOP

Finland is the first Nordic country to add a chicken pox vaccine to its national vaccination programme. The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) says the addition is intended to eliminate chicken pox in Finland by vaccinating all children under 12 that have not contracted the disease.

Finland's comprehensive response will begin as the 2017-2018 school year starts, when jabs will be administered in health care centres and primary schools, targeting children between the ages of 18 months to 11 years old.

Authorities have ordered more than a quarter of a million varicella vaccine doses for the operation.

Before the shots are administered, however, parents and caregivers will be sent a questionnaire asking if their child has already contracted the disease. THL's head of immunization Tuija Leino says that there's no harm in taking the vaccine as a precautionary measure if the parents have a hard time remembering or are unsure.

Spreads easily

Chicken pox is a common airborne disease that spreads easily. It has a reputation as an annoying ailment that is not dangerous, and the majority of children contract it before they begin school. This number drops to one in twenty once the children reach fifth grade.

"It's like rolling the dice with chicken pox. It can be very mild, or it can bring on 500 lesions and acute itchiness and fever. Sometimes it leads to more serious diseases," she says.

The most common complication is bacteria entering the skin under the blister, which leads to a skin infection that may require hospital care. One in 400 develops pneumonia, or in the worst case, encephalitis.

More severe in older victims

Varicella strikes juveniles and adults more severely than young children. Leino strongly recommends that adults who have never fallen ill to the ailment make an appointment for the vaccination at a local health centre.

"Chicken pox in adults almost always involves a high fever, a lot of blisters and oftentimes scarring. The school vaccinations are intended to stave off cases of adults contracting the disease," says Leino.

The infectious disease is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as one-fifth go on to contract pneumonia. The disease also poses considerable danger to the foetuses of infected mothers - including the possibility of brain damage.

Less missed work

The treatment price tag in Finland isn't great, Leino says, but the national economy is affected by parents with sick children being absent from work. It is estimated that just under ten percent of parental sick care leaves can be attributed to chicken pox.

"The blisters set in 5 to 6 days after infection and then you have to wait for the sores to clear up before the kids can go back to day care. In practice, the disease can lead to at least a week off the job," Leino says.

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