In 1995, the United States was the first country to introduce a universal 1-dose childhood varicella vaccination program. In 2006, the US varicella vaccine policy was changed to a routine 2-dose childhood program, with catchup vaccination for older children. The objective of this review was to summarize the US experience with the 1-dose varicella vaccination program, present the evidence considered for the policy change, and outline future challenges of the program.

We conducted a review of publications identified by searching PubMed for the terms “varicella,” “varicella vaccine,” and “herpes zoster.” The search was limited to US publications except for herpes zoster; we reviewed all published literature on herpes zoster incidence.

A single dose of varicella vaccine was 80% to 85% effective in preventing disease of any severity and >95% effective in preventing severe varicella and had an excellent safety profile. The vaccination program reduced disease incidence by 57% to 90%, hospitalizations by 75% to 88%, deaths by >74%, and direct inpatient and outpatient medical expenditures by 74%. The decline of cases plateaued between 2003 and 2006, and outbreaks continued to occur, even among highly vaccinated school populations. Compared with children who received 1 dose, in 1 clinical trial, 2-dose vaccine recipients developed in a larger proportion antibody titers that were more likely to protect against breakthrough disease and had a 3.3-fold lower risk for breakthrough disease and higher vaccine efficacy. Two studies showed no increase in overall herpes zoster incidence, whereas 2 others showed an increase.

A decade of varicella prevention in the United States has resulted in a dramatic decline in disease; however, even with high vaccination coverage, the effectiveness of 1 dose of vaccine did not generate sufficient population immunity to prevent community transmission. A 2-dose varicella vaccine schedule, therefore, was recommended for children in 2006. Data are inconclusive regarding an effect of the varicella vaccination program on herpes zoster epidemiology.

Pediatrics, volume 122, issue 3, e744-e751.

Americas United States of America