Chickenpox affected nearly four million people annually in the early 1990s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 1995, the number of children diagnosed with the disease dropped by as much as 98 percent (from 1995 through 2010). If you have concerns about this routine childhood vaccine, take a look at some of the most common questions that parents have.
Why Get Vaccinated?
Simply stated, you don't want your child to get sick. Even though most healthy children can fight off a varicella infection without lasting consequences, the illness can cause more serious issues. These issues include pneumonia, encephalitis, and other severe issues that require hospitalization.
Along with protecting your child, the vaccine also protects other people. Some children and adults can't receive the vaccine. They include people with compromised immune systems or cancer as well as those undergoing some types of medical treatments. Decreasing the number of people in the general population with the disease helps these medically fragile patients stay healthy.
Does the Vaccine Work?
The chickenpox vaccine is highly effective. According to CDC statistics, the vaccine prevents over 3.5 million cases of the disease each year. It also prevents 100 deaths and 9,000 hospitalizations annually. The sharp drop in the number of diagnosed cases demonstrates the effectiveness of the varicella vaccine.
While there's a slim chance that your child could still get sick with the varicella virus, the risk is extremely low in comparison to not getting vaccinated. If your child does get chickenpox after receiving the vaccine, they'll likely experience a much milder case than someone without it.
When Should Children Get the Vaccine?
Most healthy children get the vaccine twice. The first immunization is typically between 12 and 15 months of age. The pediatrician will give your child a second dose sometime between ages four and six. If your child is older than 13 and has never had the varicella vaccine, they should still get two doses - with the second dose 28 days or more after the first.
Is There a Reason Not to Get the Vaccine?
Most healthy children have no problem with this vaccine. Some children can have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. If your child experiences this during this first dose, it's likely that the doctor won't recommend a second one. Likewise, if your child has a known allergy to any component/ingredient used in the vaccine, they should avoid this immunization.
Sick children should also wait to get the vaccine. This includes children who are moderately ill as well as those with serious health issues. Tell the doctor if your child has had a fever, vomiting, sore throat, or any other symptoms before getting the shot.
Are Chickenpox Parties a Safe Alternative?
Decades ago, before there was a vaccine, parents threw chickenpox parties. The idea behind these parties was to purposefully expose other children to a sick child, creating a controlled outbreak of the disease.
While this idea worked in theory (controlling the timing of illness onset and helping to ensure future immunity), it also came at a cost. While most healthy children recover from chickenpox, the varicella virus can cause life-threatening symptoms that require hospitalization.
Prior to the development of an effective vaccine, parents didn't have any real alternative to their children getting the disease and building a natural post-sickness immunity. Now that the vaccine exists, immunization is a much safer alternative to exposure. If your child isn't vaccinated, they should avoid contact with other children (or adults) who are known to have the virus.
Do Schools Require This Vaccination?
As of now, each individual state has their own laws governing vaccinations and childcare/school entry. While each state has vaccination laws, not all these laws require children to receive a chickenpox vaccination. Contact your state health department or your child's school to ask for local requirements. If your state requires the chickenpox vaccine, you'll need to provide proof of vaccination (or illness) before your child is allowed to start school.
Does your child need a chickenpox vaccine or another vaccination? Contact Valley Pediatric Center for more information.