Shock photo pushes rush on vaccine

'Uncharacteristically high demand'

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 24/05/2013
Cooper Marsh
DON SCOTT/FAIRFAX NZ
ALL BETTER NOW: Cooper Marsh, now 4, has fully recovered from chickenpox but still bears a few scars.
Cooper Marsh
SPOT THE PROBLEM: Cooper Marsh at 10 months, riddled with chickenpox.

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Kiwi parents reaching for the chickenpox vaccine are out of luck as the national medical cabinet is bare.

The eye-watering image of a Christchurch baby riddled with red spots could have fuelled the huge demand for the vaccination this year.

This week drug company GlaxoSmithKline informed medical centres that stocks of the Varilrix vaccine had run out because of "uncharacteristically high demand".

The company fielded a 37 per cent increase in the chickenpox - varicella - vaccine uptake between January and April this year compared with the same period in 2012.

"We believe that this has been driven mainly by recent media news around the importance of parents considering vaccinating against chickenpox and that Pharmac are considering funding this vaccine," a spokeswoman said.

Christchurch boy Cooper Marsh's horror brush with chickenpox featured in The Press earlier this year.

A shocking photograph of baby Cooper covered in red spots at the peak of his illness could be partly to blame for the demand of the vaccination, his mother Hayley Marsh said.

"It is quite a horrendous photograph and if it increased awareness of the illness, that is great," she said.

All four of Marsh's children were struck down by chickenpox about four years ago but Cooper, who was then 10 months old, required hospital treatment. Doctors found chickenpox inside his throat.

Cooper, now 4, still bears his chickenpox scars and Marsh said she shares his story with other parents to try to encourage them to vaccinate their children.

"In retrospect I would have had our children vaccinated had I known how bad it was going to be, but I was under the impression that chickenpox was a mild childhood illness - almost like a rite of passage."

The Varilrix vaccination is not Government-funded and doctors have recently been calling for free immunisation against chickenpox.

Varilrix is available from medical centres and costs between $50 and $100, depending on the number of doses.

It can be given to babies from the age of 9 months and is also suitable for older children and adults.

GlaxoSmithKline was expecting a fresh supply of the vaccine to arrive from Belgium over the weekend and hoped to distribute it to medical centres by early June.

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Pegasus Health clinical director Simon Brokenshire said there were still 35 Varilrix vaccinations available in Christchurch at the 24 Hour Surgery, which supplies all general practices under the Pegasus Health umbrella in the city.

Demand was up noticeably from last year and Brokenshire said they were currently vaccinating about seven children a week.

There is an alternative chickenpox vaccine available, called Variavax, and the 24 Hour Surgery had 26 currently in stock, he said.

Pharmac, the Government's drug-buying agency, is considering funding the Varilrix vaccine.

- The Press

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