Varicella: The Chickenpox Vaccine

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a single dose of the chickenpox vaccine for all children between 12 and 18 months of age who have not had chickenpox. Older children should be immunized at the earliest opportunity, also with a single dose. For healthy children older than 13 who have not had chickenpox and have never been immunized against the disease, two doses of the vaccine are required, 4 to 8 weeks apart.

There are many benefits to vaccinating your child against chickenpox. Although chickenpox is usually mild, vaccinating all children at age 1 can prevent serious medical problems and reduce the costs related to the disease. Chickenpox can be expensive and inconvenient. Parents may have to miss work while their children are home from school or child care. In the average household, a child with chickenpox misses 8 or 9 days of school, and adult caretakers lose up to 2 days of work.

Immunization with the chickenpox vaccine will prevent most children from getting chickenpox. If vaccinated children do get chickenpox, they generally have a much milder form of the disease. They have fewer skin lesions (15 to 32), a lower fever, and recover more quickly. In fact, the disease may be so mild that the skin lesions look like insect bites. Even so, vaccinated children with a mild case of chickenpox can still infect others at risk of getting chickenpox.

Currently, revaccination with the chickenpox vaccine is not recommended. However, studies are underway to determine how long protection from the vaccine lasts and whether a person will need revaccination in the future.

Before becoming available, a chickenpox vaccine was tested in over 9,400 healthy children and over 1,600 adults in the United States. Since the chickenpox vaccine was licensed in 1995, several million doses of vaccine have been given to children in the United States. Studies continue to show the vaccine to be safe and effective.

Side effects from the chickenpox vaccine generally are mild and include:

· redness

· stiffness

· soreness

· tiredness

· fussiness

· fever

· nausea

· swelling where the shot was given

Also, in a small percentage of people who are vaccinated, 7%-8%, a rash of several small bumps or pimples may develop at the spot where the shot was given or on other parts of the body. This can occur up to 1 month after immunization and can last for several days.

Your child can get the chickenpox vaccine at the same time he or she gets the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. If your pediatrician doesn't give your child the chickenpox and MMR vaccines at the same time, your child should wait at least 1 month between each vaccine. Otherwise, your child can get the vaccine for chickenpox at the same time or at any time before or after vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP), polio, hepatitis B, and Haemophilus influenzae type b.

Although the chickenpox vaccine is approved for use in healthy children, there are certain groups of people who should not receive it, such as:

· children with a weakened immune system

· children with a life-threatening allergy to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin

· pregnant women

Talk to your pediatrician about whether your child falls into any of the high-risk categories and should not be vaccinated against chickenpox.

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