Chickenpox Vaccine


Why is a vaccine for chickenpox needed?

Chickenpox is a disease that can be very easily spread from person to person. It is most common in children. Most cases occur in people who are younger than 15 years of age.

Chickenpox is usually a mild illness, but it can cause problems such as brain swelling, pneumonia and skin infections. Some children get sicker than others. Chickenpox may be a very serious illness in infants and adults.

Because chickenpox is so contagious, a child who has chickenpox shouldn't go to school or day care until all the sores have dried or crusted. Many parents miss work during the time their child has chickenpox. Because of the lost time from work, chickenpox can be a significant cost to parents of children who get the illness.

What is the varicella vaccine?

The varicella vaccine is a shot that can prevent chickenpox. It is called varicella because the varicella virus causes chickenpox. Up to 90% of people who receive the vaccine will not get chickenpox. People who get chickenpox after having the vaccine have a milder form of the disease.

Who should be vaccinated against chickenpox?

The chickenpox vaccine is not required like some other vaccines. However, it is generally safe and will save your child from suffering with a preventable illness. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about the vaccine. It's given to children at 12 months to 18 months of age and again between 4 years and 6 years of age.

The following people should probably receive the varicella vaccine if they have never had chickenpox:

  • Older children, adolescents and adults
  • Health-care or day-care workers
  • Teachers
  • College students
  • Military personnel
  • Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
  • Women of childbearing age who are not pregnant (women should avoid pregnancy for 1 month following the vaccine)
  • Anyone traveling to other countries outside the United States

Who should not receive the varicella vaccine?

The following people should not receive the varicella vaccine:

  • Anyone who has a serious illness
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction to the varicella vaccine in the past
  • Anyone who is allergic to gelatin (Tell your doctor. There is a gelatin-free varicella vaccine.)
  • Anyone who is allergic to neomycin, an antibiotic often found in creams and ointments
  • Anyone who has an immune system disease, such as HIV
  • Anyone who is receiving high doses of steroids, such as prednisone
  • Anyone who is receiving treatment for cancer with X-rays, drugs or chemotherapy
  • Anyone who has received blood products during the past 5 months, such as a blood transfusion

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about whether you should receive the varicella vaccine.

Are there any side effects from the varicella vaccine?

The most common side effects are pain, redness or swelling at the injection site. Severe reactions are rare.

If your child seems to be having any side effects or reaction to the vaccine, call your doctor right away.

A note about vaccines

Sometimes the amount of a certain vaccine cannot keep up with the number of people who need it. More info...

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Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 01/99