Available Vaccines: Varivax, ProQuad (combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella)

Chickenpox is caused by the highly contagious varicella-zoster virus (VZV). VZV causes the classic itchy blister-like rash that lasts 5 to 7 days. The blisters will scab in about 7 days, but until then the virus particles within the blisters are highly contagious. Prior to development of a rash, tiredness, headache, and fever are common. A person is considered contagious from 1 to 2 days prior to development of the rash until the blisters have scabbed, but it may take a 10- to 21-day incubation period after a person is exposed prior to developing symptoms.

Serious complications from chickenpox include bacterial skin infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia, sepsis, and severe dehydration. Oftentimes individuals who develop complications require hospitalization and are at an increased risk of death. Although everyone is at risk of these complications, those at further increased risk of complicated chickenpox include infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems because of illness (HIV, AIDS, cancer, etc.) or medications (immunosuppressive medications, long-term steroid use, etc.). There are still cases of death from chickenpox in otherwise healthy adults and children, but most are attributed to not receiving the vaccine or catching the disease from unvaccinated children.

Chickenpox Vaccine

Prior to the vaccine, there were approximately 4 million cases each year resulting in about 10,600 hospitalizations and causing 100 to 150 deaths in the United States.

Two doses (0.5 mL subcutaneously) should be given 3 months apart in children aged 1 to 12 years or 4 to 8 weeks apart in adolescents and adults (combination MMRV vaccine is not approved in adolescents or adults).

Typically, after an individual has chickenpox, they have immunity for life; rarely are there instances where chickenpox occurs more than once.

The vaccine is 90% effective after two doses. Some individuals may still get the chicken pox after receiving the vaccine, but the illness from virus is much more mild with less blisters and low-grade to no fever.

Who Should Get the Vaccine?

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that all healthy people who do not have evidence of immunity to varicella receive the vaccine. The ACIP also recommends that states require children entering childcare and other students starting school, college, and other educational institutions receive the vaccine.

The varicella vaccine is especially important for healthcare professionals, individuals around immunocompromised individuals, teachers and child care workers, residents and staff in nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, college students, inmates and staff of correctional institutions, military personnel, adolescents and adults living with children, and international travelers.

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

People should not get the chickenpox vaccine if they have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin, or if they are moderately or severely ill when the vaccine was scheduled to be given. Individuals with weakened immune systems due to disease or those taking immunosuppressive medications should check with their doctors before receiving the vaccine. Pregnant women should wait until after they have given birth to receive the vaccine, and it is recommended that women should not get pregnant for 1 month after receiving the vaccine

Side Effects

Side effects from the varicella vaccine include injection site reactions (redness, pain and swelling), low fever, mild skin rash, nasal congestion, sore throat, headache, and myalgia.

Insurance Coverage

Most private health insurances cover the vaccines – check with your provider for information.
The Vaccines for Children Program may be able to help if you do not have health insurance coverage for your child or if your insurance does not cover vaccines.