Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine

Unless vaccinated, nearly everyone will become infected by chickenpox, most often in early childhood or later on when complications are more likely. In the United States before a vaccine was available, chickenpox infected 3.7 million people a year, hospitalized more than 10,000, and killed 100, about 40 of whom were children.

Controversies surround the current recommendation to give chickenpox vaccine to all U.S. infants. A great concern is that the immunity from the vaccine may wear off years later, when the individual is much older and so has a far greater risk for complications from the disease.  Also, because chickenpox is considered a relatively mild childhood disease, some parents believe that vaccination is unnecessary. Complaints have been raised that this is a “designer vaccine,” meaning it was developed for parents’ convenience, so they wouldn’t have to miss work. Use of the vaccine is increasing, though: in 1997, 26 percent of 2 year olds were vaccinated against chickenpox, whereas just a year later, 43 percent were vaccinated. As of this writing, chickenpox vaccine requirements have been enacted in 14 states, with more on the way.

This information is excerpted from the book Vaccinating Your Child: Questions and Answers for the Concerned Parent (Peachtree Publishers, Ltd., 2000). The book’s authors are Dr. Sharon G. Humiston, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at the CDC and the University of Rochester, and Cynthia Good, an award-winning journalist and host of the television show “Good for Parents”.