In Hong Kong, universal varicella vaccination started in July 2014. Before this, children could receive varicella vaccine via the private market. We analysed the epidemiology of varicella and zoster before universal vaccination. We estimated varicella vaccination coverage through surveys in preschool children. We estimated the burden of varicella and zoster with varicella notifications from 1999/00 to 2013/14, Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) attendance and inpatient admissions to public hospitals from 2004/05 to 2013/14. We fitted a catalytic model to serological data on antibodies against varicella-zoster virus to estimate the force of infection. We found that varicella vaccination coverage gradually increased to about 50% before programme inception. In children younger than 5 years, the annual rate of varicella notifications, varicella admission and zoster A&E attendance generally declined. The annual notification, A&E attendance and hospitalisation rate of varicella and zoster generally increased for individuals between 10 and 59 years old. Varicella serology indicated an age shift during the study period towards a higher proportion of infections in slightly older individuals, but the change was most notable before vaccine licensure. In conclusion, we observed a shift in the burden of varicella to slightly older age groups with a corresponding increase in incidence but it cannot necessarily be attributed to private market vaccine coverage alone. Increasing varicella vaccination uptake in the private market might affect varicella transmission and epidemiology, but not to the level of interrupting transmission.
Keywords: Chickenpox; surveillance; vaccines; varicella zoster; zoster (shingles).