The provincial government announced today it will spend $3.1 million per year starting in 2012 to expand its current childhood immunization program to include rotavirus vaccine, a varicella (chickenpox) booster, and hepatitis A vaccine for Aboriginal children both on and off- reserve.
The rotavirus vaccine is administered orally, and protects infants from diarrhoea and vomiting caused by the rotavirus. All infants born on or after Nov. 1, 2011, will be eligible. The first dose is administered at two months of age, followed by a second dose at four months.
A varicella booster dose has also been added to the immunization schedule to help provide lifetime immunity against chickenpox. The booster is recommended by the Canadian Paediatric Society and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to provide improved and longer-lasting protection. Children receive their first dose at 12 months, and a second dose will now be offered to children at school entry (four to six years of age). Chickenpox is a viral infection that causes an itchy blistering rash, but can also cause infections in any part of the body, including the brain.
The hepatitis A vaccine will now be offered to all Aboriginal infants and children to help combat outbreaks that continue to occur in Aboriginal communities. Hepatitis A affects the liver and can cause fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and yellow skin and eyes. It is easily spread through activities such as sharing of food and changing of diapers.
The new additions to B.C.'s immunization schedule have been reviewed and recommended by the BC Communicable Disease Policy Advisory Committee and the BC Immunization Committee. More information about childhood immunizations can be found by contacting HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or by visiting www.ImmunizeBC.ca.
The rotavirus vaccine prevents about three out of four cases of rotavirus disease, including almost all severe cases requiring hospitalizations. Rotavirus is the most common cause of diarrhoea and hospitalization for diarrhoea in children under five years of age. The first symptoms of rotavirus infection are usually fever and vomiting, followed by diarrhoea and stomach pain. These symptoms appear one to three days after infection. Diarrhoea can last from four to eight days.
Chickenpox is most common in children, but most people will get chickenpox at some point in their lives if they have not had the chickenpox vaccine. Even healthy children can have serious disease. Chickenpox can be especially serious in pregnant women, newborns, teens and adults, and people who have immune system problems that make it hard for the body to fight infection. The publicly funded varicella immunization program began in B.C. in 2004. Since then, the number of related hospitalizations has dropped
by up to 84 per cent in hospitals that participate in active surveillance.
Some people infected with hepatitis A do not get sick, but can unknowingly spread the disease. While overall hepatitis A rates in British Columbia stabilized at a low rate following the introduction of a targeted immunization program in the mid-1990s, outbreaks in Aboriginal groups have remained a more common occurrence.