Background: Despite the existence of varicella vaccine, many developed countries have not introduced it into their national schedules, partly because of concerns about whether herpes zoster (HZ, shingles) will increase due to a lack of exogenous boosting. The magnitude of any increase in zoster that might occur is dependent on rates at which adults and children mix - something that has only recently been quantified - and could be reduced by simultaneously vaccinating older individuals against shingles. This study is the first to assess the cost-effectiveness of combined varicella and zoster vaccination options and compare this to alternative programmes.
Methods and findings: The cost-effectiveness of various options for the use of varicella-zoster virus (VZV) containing vaccines was explored using a transmission dynamic model. Underlying contact rates are estimated from a contemporary survey of social mixing patterns, and uncertainty in these derived from bootstrapping the original sample. The model was calibrated to UK data on varicella and zoster incidence. Other parameters were taken from the literature. UK guidance on perspective and discount rates were followed. The results of the incremental cost-effectiveness analysis suggest that a combined policy is cost-effective. However, the cost-effectiveness of this policy (and indeed the childhood two-dose policy) is influenced by projected benefits that accrue many decades (80-100 years or more) after the start of vaccination. If the programme is evaluated over shorter time frames, then it would be unlikely to be deemed cost-effective, and may result in declines in population health, due to a projected rise in the incidence of HZ. The findings are also sensitive to a number of parameters that are inaccurately quantified, such as the risk of HZ in varicella vaccine responders.
Conclusions: Policy makers should be aware of the potential negative benefits in the first 30-50 years after introduction of a childhood varicella vaccine. This can only be partly mitigated by the introduction of a herpes zoster vaccine. They have to decide how they value the potential benefits beyond this time to consider childhood vaccination cost effective.
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