Review of the United States universal varicella vaccination program: Herpes zoster incidence rates, cost-effectiveness, and vaccine efficacy based primarily on the Antelope Valley Varicella Active Surveillance Project data.
In a cooperative agreement starting January 1995, prior to the FDA’s licensure of the varicella vaccine on March 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded the Los Angeles Department of Health Services’ Antelope Valley Varicella Active Surveillance Project (AV-VASP). Since only varicella case reports were gathered, baseline incidence data for herpes zoster (HZ) or shingles was lacking. Varicella case reports decreased 72%, from 2834 in 1995 to 836 in 2000 at which time approximately 50% of children under 10 years of age had been vaccinated. Starting in 2000, HZ surveillance was added to the project. By 2002, notable increases in HZ incidence rates were reported among both children and adults with a prior history of natural varicella. However, CDC authorities still claimed that no increase in HZ had occurred in any US surveillance site. The basic assumptions inherent to the varicella cost-benefit analysis ignored the significance of exogenous boosting caused by those shedding wild-type VZV. Also ignored was the morbidity associated with even rare serious events following varicella vaccination as well as the morbidity from increasing cases of HZ among adults. Vaccine efficacy declined below 80% in 2001. By 2006, because 20% of vaccinees were experiencing breakthrough varicella and vaccine-induced protection was waning, the CDC recommended a booster dose for children and, in 2007, a shingles vaccination was approved for adults aged 60 years and older. In the prelicensure era, 95% of adults experienced natural chickenpox (usually as children)-these cases were usually benign and resulted in long-term immunity. Varicella vaccination is less effective than the natural immunity that existed in prevaccine communities. Universal varicella vaccination has not proven to be cost-effective as increased HZ morbidity has disproportionately offset cost savings associated with reductions in varicella disease. Universal varicella vaccination has failed to provide long-term protection from VZV disease.