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A vaccine for chicken pox appears to be nearing federal approval, now that it has received a conditional go-ahead from an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration.

The F.D.A. panel, made up of outside experts, found that the vaccine developed by Merck & Company, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical firm, is safe and effective for the prevention of chicken pox.

The panel said several issues must be resolved before the drug is approved, however.

Committee members said it remained to be seen whether the vaccine provides long-term immunity; whether it would result in more cases of adult chicken pox, which can be more serious; whether it would affect the development of shingles as a result of the chicken-pox virus; and how the vaccine should be administered.

In separate research on chicken-pox vaccinations, an article published in the Feb. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, said a routine vaccination program for children would save more than $5 for every $1 spent on immunizations.

Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Emory University School of Public Health in Atlanta found that an immunization program would result in substantial savings from a societal perspective, which takes into account work-loss costs as well as medical costs.

From a medical-cost perspective, however, such a program would lose money, the researchers found.

The National Academy of Sciences has released a report on reducing risks for mental illness.

Compiled by a committee of the Institute of Medicine, an independent research group chartered by the N.A.S., the book-length report defines prevention initiatives, and recommends that the federal government, state governments, and related institutions take up an "enhanced'' research agenda to prevent mental illness, including well-researched preventive interventions.

Among other interventions, the report describes several school-based programs.

Copies of "Reducing Risks for Mental Disorders: Frontiers for Preventive Intervention Research'' are available for $49.95 each, plus $4 shipping and handling, from the National Academy Press by calling (800) 624-6242; in Washington, (202) 334-3313.

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