What is varicella (chickenpox)?
Varicella, or more commonly known as chickenpox, is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Chickenpox causes an itchy rash that lasts around a week, but can also cause a fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and headaches. In more severe cases, chickenpox can lead to skin infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the blood vessels, meningitis, and blood or joint infections.
What does the chickenpox vaccine do?
The chickenpox vaccine can protect nearly anyone who receives it from contracting the chickenpox virus.
Why should I receive the chickenpox vaccine?
Although chickenpox isn’t necessarily life-threatening, some individuals who catch the virus will need to be hospitalized — however, it’s impossible to predict who will have a mild case and who will not. Even with uncomplicated cases, children with chickenpox miss an average of five to six days of school and parents or other caregivers miss three to four days of work to care for sick children. Compared to children, adults are at increased risk of complications related to chickenpox.
Who is the vaccine recommended for?
All healthy children from 12 months of age through 12 years of age should have two doses of the chickenpox vaccine, administered at least three months apart. Children who have evidence of immunity to the virus will not need to be vaccinated. People over the age of 12 who do not have evidence of immunity should receive two doses of the vaccine four to eight weeks apart. It’s important to remember that you should always get vaccinations four to six weeks before you travel to give the vaccination time to start working in the body and protect you while you’re abroad.
Who should not get the chickenpox vaccine?
You should not receive the chickenpox vaccine if you:
- Have any severe, life-threatening allergies after receiving a dose of the vaccine
- Have any severe, life-threatening allergies to any component the vaccine
- Are pregnant, or think you might be pregnant
- Have a weakened immune system due to cancer or HIV/AIDS, or are receiving treatments such as radiation, immunotherapy, steroids, or chemotherapy
- Have a parent, brother, or sister with a history of immune system problems
- Have recently had a blood transfusion or received other blood products
- Have tuberculosis
- Have received any other vaccines in the past four weeks
Are moderately or severely ill — wait until you are fully recovered to receive the vaccine
How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?
No vaccine is 100% effective in preventing disease. However, nine out of ten people who receive both doses of the chickenpox vaccine are entirely protected from chickenpox. That said, the recommended two-dose regimen is virtually 100% effective in preventing severe disease.
Are there any risks or side effects associated with the chickenpox vaccine?
Getting the chickenpox vaccine is far safer than getting the disease itself. Most people who get the vaccine won’t experience any problems. However, mild side effects may include fever, soreness, redness, or a rash at the injection site. Most of the time, these occur within two weeks after the shot and occur less often after the second dose. Serious, yet extremely rare, side effects may include seizures associated with a fever, pneumonia, meningitis, or a rash all over the body.