Why get vaccinated?
Chickenpox (also called varicella) is a common childhood disease. It is usually mild, but it can be serious, especially in young infants and adults.
- It causes a rash, itching, fever, and tiredness.
- It can lead to severe skin infection, scars, pneumonia, brain damage, or death.
- The chickenpox virus can be spread from person to person through the air, or by contact with fluid from chickenpox blisters.
- A person who has had chickenpox can get a painful rash called shingles years later.
- Before the vaccine, about 11,000 people were hospitalized for chickenpox each year in the United States.
- Before the vaccine, about 100 people died each year as a result of chickenpox in the United States.
Chickenpox vaccine can prevent chickenpox. Most people who get chickenpox vaccine will not get chickenpox. But if someone who has been vaccinated does get chickenpox, it is usually very mild. They will have fewer blisters, are less likely to have a fever, and will recover faster.
Who should get chickenpox vaccine and when?
- Children who have never had chickenpox should get 2 doses of chickenpox vaccine at these ages: 12 to 15 months of age and 4 to 6 years of age (may be given earlier, if at least 3 months after the 1st dose)
- People 13 years of age and older (who have never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine) should get two doses at least 28 days apart.
- Children or adolescents who are not fully vaccinated should receive one or two doses of chickenpox vaccine. The timing of these doses depends on the person's age. Ask your provider. Chickenpox vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines.
Note: A ''combination'' vaccine called MMRV, which contains both chickenpox and MMR vaccines, may be given instead of the two individual vaccines to people 12 years of age and younger.
Who should not get chickenpox vaccine or should wait?
- People should not get chickenpox vaccine if they have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or a previous dose of chickenpox vaccine.
- People who are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled should usually wait until they recover before getting chickenpox vaccine.
- Pregnant women should wait to get chickenpox vaccine until after they have given birth. Women should not get pregnant for 1 month after getting chickenpox vaccine.
- Some people should check with their doctor about whether they should get chickenpox vaccine, including anyone who: has HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system; is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer; has any kind of cancer; is getting cancer treatment with radiation or drugs
- People who recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products should ask their doctor when they may get chickenpox vaccine.
What are the risks from chickenpox vaccine?
Getting chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting chickenpox disease. Most people who get chickenpox vaccine do not have any problems with it. However, a vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of chickenpox vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.
- Soreness or swelling where the shot was given (about 1 out of 5 children and up to 1 out of 3 adolescents and adults)
- Fever (1 person out of 10, or less)
- Mild rash, up to a month after vaccination (1 person out of 20, or less). It is possible for these people to infect other members of their household, but this is extremely rare.
- Note: MMRV vaccine has been associated with higher rates of fever (up to about 1 person in 5) and measles-like rash (about 1 person in 20) than MMR and varicella vaccines given separately.
- Seizure (jerking or staring) caused by fever (less than 1 person out of 1,000).
- Pneumonia (very rare)
- Other serious problems, including severe brain reactions and low blood count, have been reported after chickenpox vaccination. These happen so rarely experts cannot tell whether they are caused by the vaccine or not. If they are, it is extremely rare.
Note: The first dose of MMRVvaccine has been associated with rash and higher rates of fever than MMR and varicella vaccines given separately. Rash has been reported in about 1 person in 20 and fever in about 1 person in 5. Seizures caused by a fever are also reported more often after MMRV. These usually occur 5-12 days after the first dose.
What if there is a moderate or severe reaction?
- Any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarse ness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.
- Call a doctor, or get the person to a doctor right away.
- Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
- Ask your healthcare provider to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form if you have any reaction to the vaccine. Or call VAERS yourself at 1-800-822-7967, or visit their website at http://vaers.hhs.gov.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
In the rare event that you or your child has a serious reaction to a vaccine, a federal program has been created to help pay for the care of those who have been harmed.
For details about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, call 1-800-338-2382 or visit the program's website at http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation.
How can I learn more?
- Ask your doctor or other healthcare provider. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
- Call your local or state health department's immunization program.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO) or visit the National Immunization Program's website at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines.
Varicella Vaccine Information Statement. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Immunization Program. 3/13/2008.
Brand names of combination products
- ProQuad® (containing Measles Vaccine, Mumps Vaccine, Rubella Vaccine, Varicella Vaccine)