Abu Dhabi: A chickenpox vaccine, known as the varicella vaccine, has been introduced for the first time across the emirate of Abu Dhabi to help protect children against chickenpox, the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) said on Tuesday.

The varicella vaccine, as defined by the HAAD, is a live (attenuated) vaccine that protects against the viral disease known as chickenpox.

Effective from today the vaccine will be introduced as part of the national immunisation programme for children born on or after September 1, 2009. Children must be at least 12 months old to be immunised.

The national immunisation programme was introduced in the UAE in 1978, and includes the six basic vaccines to protect children against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertusis and measles. The programme has been updated and expanded to include an increased number of vaccines to protect against more diseases.

HAAD statistics showed that in 2009 there were 7,219 cases of chickenpox in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, among various age groups.

The health authority said it was vital to start the chickenpox immunisation programme for one-year-olds, as a start. The vaccine would be available in health centres from October 3.

When Gulf News asked if other age groups would be included in the chickenpox immunisation programme, Dr Fareeda Al Hosani, Section Head Communication Diseases at the HAAD, said: "We are thinking of introducing the vaccine on routine basis in the future for various age groups".

Isolation from the infected patient was the best solution, Dr Al Hosani said.

In the US: Drastic reduction

Routine immunisation against chickenpox is implemented in the US, and the incidence of chickenpox has been dramatically reduced there, from four million cases per year in the pre-vaccine era to approximately 400,000 cases per year as of 2005, according to a HAAD circular.