A new vaccine that combines four childhood immunizations has won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Merck & Co. said Tuesday.
The vaccine, called Proquad, is approved to protect children 12 months to 12 years of age against measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox.
“The approval of Proquad makes it more likely that more children can gain protection against these four diseases because fewer shots can potentially mean better compliance,” said Henry Shinefield, clinical professor of pediatrics and dermatology at the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco and a Proquad clinical investigator.
Vaccination against the varicella virus, which causes chickenpox, was introduced in 1995, and is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for children aged 12 months to 18 months and to all susceptible people over the age of 13.
Before the vaccine, the intensely itchy rash of chickenpox was a hallmark of childhood, and accounted for about 13,000 hospitalizations and 100 to 150 deaths a year.
Chickenpox can also recur in later life as shingles, also known as herpes zoster, a painful and sometimes fatal inflammation.
In 2004, more than 87% of U.S. children got the varicella vaccine, and the incidence of the disease has been in decline. Yet it still killed at least eight adults and children in 2003 and 2004 combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overall vaccination rates are at record highs, with 81% of U.S. toddlers 19 months to 3 years old receiving the full recommended series.
Shares of Merck, which is battling a slew of product-liability lawsuits over its withdrawn painkiller Vioxx, rose 16 cents to $28.99.