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Free chickenpox vaccine from 1 November 2005.

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MEDIA RELEASE Minister for Health and Ageing

Tony Abbott MHR

1 November 2005 ABB131/05

Free chickenpox vaccine from 1 November

From today children born on or after 1 May 2004 will receive chickenpox vaccine free when they turn 18 months old.

The National Varicella (Chickenpox) Vaccination Program also has a long-term catch-up component for one group of children aged between 10 to 13 years who have not received the vaccine or who have not had the disease.

Children will also be able to receive injectable inactivated polio vaccine instead of oral polio vaccine. Both these new vaccines will cost $138.8 million over five years.

Previously, parents had to pay up to $55 per dose for the varicella vaccine while the oral polio vaccine was available for free under the National Immunisation Program.

Chickenpox has the potential to cause serious complications such as skin infections, pneumonia and inflammation of the brain. In some cases, the illness is fatal.

Each year seven Australians die from chickenpox and around 240,000 people are affected, resulting in 1,500 hospitalisations. However, it is preventable and vaccination provides the best possible protection against the disease.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor John Horvath, is writing to parents of eligible children to advise them of the new program and to encourage them to protect their children against chickenpox. The letter will be accompanied by a fact sheet with answers to some common questions about the program and about chickenpox

The government has also sent GPs throughout Australia information about the program, including information resources for distribution to parents.

As with other vaccines funded by the government under the National Immunisation Program, eligible people need to visit their doctor or immunisation provider and ask for the vaccine.

In 1996, Commonwealth Government spending on vaccines was $13 million. Vaccine expenditure under the National Immunisation Program in 2004-05, was estimated to be $285 million - a 22-fold increase.

Media contact: Claire Kimball, 0413 486 926