Chicken pox, also known as varicella, is a contagious disease that is most common in children under 15 years of age. Two of the more prevalent symptoms are a pimple-like rash and severe itching. Although this is a common childhood illness, you have the option of protecting your child with the chicken pox vaccine.
In terms of symptoms, chicken pox is usually mild. It is possible, however, to see various complications associated with varicella. Such complications can include brain swelling pneumonia and skin infections. In addition, someone who has had chicken pox as a child may contract a painful rash called shingles later in life. Chicken pox is often most serious in infants and adults.
About the Varicella Vaccine
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 11,000 people were hospitalized each year prior to the development of the chicken pox vaccine, and about 100 died. The varicella vaccine is an attenuated vaccine, meaning that the weakened live virus is present in the vaccine. It produces antibodies to protect against chicken pox, but it won’t infect those who receive the vaccine. The varicella vaccine not only protects those who receive it, but it also keeps others from being exposed to the virus in the first place.
The chicken pox vaccine is a shot given in fatty tissue, usually in the arm. It’s very effective in protecting children from getting chicken pox. If symptoms do occur after vaccination, they are usually mild. Children receive two doses of the vaccine, usually between 12 and 15 months of age, and again at 4 to 6 years old.
Who Shouldn’t Get the Chicken Pox Vaccine
There are some children who shouldn’t get the varicella vaccine. Those who show severe reactions to the vaccine shouldn’t receive a second dosage. People who are allergic to gelatin or to the antibiotic neomycin shouldn’t get vaccinated either.
Doctors recommend that people who are moderately ill wait until they are better to receive the vaccine. Women shouldn’t get the chicken pox vaccine while they are pregnant: They should wait at least a month after giving birth to do so.
Those with cancer or other diseases or conditions that affect the immune system, such as HIV, shouldn’t get the varicella vaccine. Talk to your doctor for clarification on any of these restrictions.
Vaccine Side Effects
Though side effects and complications are rare, there are certain complications or allergic reactions associated with the chicken pox vaccine. It’s more likely to see a reaction after receiving the first dose than the second. Getting the vaccine offers fewer risks than getting the chicken pox disease.
Chicken pox vaccine side effects may include:
- Mild rash up to a month after vaccination
- Rare, but possible, seizures due to fever
- Soreness or swelling at the injection site.
Contact your child’s physician if you suspect any signs of reaction. Look for these signs:
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Rapid heart rate
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2008). Chicken pox vaccine: What you need to know. Retrieved January 1, 2010, from the Centers for Disease Control Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-varicella.pdf.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2009). Chicken pox (varicella) vaccine. Retrieved January 1, 2010, from the VaccineInformation.org Web site: http://www.vaccineinformation.org/varicel/qandavax.asp.
Family Doctor Staff. (2009.) Chicken pox vaccine. Retrieved January 1, 2010, from the Family Doctor Web site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/vaccines/193.html.