Needle News The Food and Drug Administration's approval last week of a four-in-one vaccine will give some kids one less thing to cry about. Merck's ProQuad combines two of the company's current vaccines: MMR II (for measles, mumps and rubella) and Varivax (for varicella, or chickenpox). California pediatrician Robert Frenck, who serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics's Committee on Infectious Disease, said he's confident that the company's studies demonstrate that the new vaccine is safe and effective. ProQuad does not contain the mercury-based preservative thimerosal, suspected by some to cause neurological damage.

A Shot in the Arm ProQuad is meant to be administered at 12 to 15 months -- roughly the same age that guidelines call for kids to get their first MMR and chickenpox shots. (An MMR booster shot is advised between ages 4 and 6; no varicella booster is currently recommended.) Henry Shinefield, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, and lead author of the Merck studies, said kids who have had MMR II alone or with Varivax can take ProQuad as a booster.

The Upshot With ProQuad costing about $115 per dose, Merck spokeswoman Amy Rose said full immunization will run about $10 more per child than with separate shots of MMR II (about $38 each) plus Varivax ($66). Rose said the increased cost would likely be offset by fewer trips to the doctor. Frenck, who said he has no ties to Merck, agreed. "Is it worth 10 dollars versus the kid getting another shot?" Frenck asked. "I would think it would be worth the 10 dollars."

-- Jennifer Huget

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For $10 more, a little less ouch.