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Parental opinions on childhood varicella and the varicella vaccine: a UK multicentre qualitative interview study
  1. Emily Lee,
  2. Jennifer Turner,
  3. Jessica Bate
  1. Department of Child Health, St George's University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Jessica Bate, Department of Child Health, St George's University of London, Cranmer Terrace, London SW17 0RE, UK; jbate{at}

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Varicella-zoster virus can cause serious complications and require hospitalisation, even in healthy children.1 2 A live attenuated varicella vaccine was developed in the 1970s and is part of routine immunisation programmes in many countries including Japan, USA and Australia. The varicella vaccine has been shown to be immunogenic, safe and tolerable.3 However, this vaccine is not given routinely in the UK and is only recommended for certain high-risk groups. The aim of this study was to explore parental experiences and perceptions of childhood varicella and to gain insight into parental attitudes towards a universal varicella vaccination programme. Face-to-face interviews were carried out at St George's Hospital, London and Stepping Hill Hospital, Manchester, over a 6-week period from March to April 2009. Data were collected on index children and their siblings, if possible. Informed consent was obtained before each interview and no patient-identifying data were collected. The study was classified as a service evaluation by the local research ethics committee.

Data were obtained on 454 children, representing 388 index children and 66 siblings (table 1).

Table 1

Patient demographics

For children who had had chickenpox, 201/272 (73.9%) of parents sought medical advice regarding the diagnosis. Some parents were concerned about scarring (38/272, 14.0%) and high fever (13/272, 4.8%), but the majority of parents had no concerns at all (188/272, 69%). Some children (14/272, 5.1%) developed complications secondary to chickenpox, of whom 10 had underlying medical conditions (table 2). The majority of parents viewed the condition as serious (279/454, 61.5%). Prior to the interview, only 101/388 (26.0%) of parents were aware of the existence of the varicella vaccine. However, 261/388 (67.3%) of parents surveyed would be in favour of a universal vaccination programme in the UK.

Table 2

Chickenpox complications (n=14)*

The parents surveyed in this study were all attending hospital with their children so may have different opinions from parents of children surveyed in a non-medical environment such as a nursery. Sibling data were collected to attempt to counteract this potential bias.

Parental opinion is important when considering the introduction of new routine vaccines and needs to be acknowledged by policy-makers. This study showed that almost three-quarters of parents surveyed were unaware of the existence of an effective vaccine. However, the majority of parents surveyed in this study thought that chickenpox is a serious disease and were in favour of a universal varicella vaccination programme in the UK.


The authors would like to thank Dr Paul Heath for review of the manuscript.


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  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Wandsworth REC defined as service evaluation.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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