What is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a very infectious viral infection that causes a very itchy red rash on the skin accompanied by fever, abdominal pain, and other flu-like symptoms. The chickenpox rash usually appears first on the abdomen or back and face, and then spreads to almost everywhere else on the body, including the scalp, mouth, nose, and inside the ears. It starts out as a rash and within days turns into a series of red blister-like sores. During the course of the illness, there can be hundreds of blisters or just a few. Within a few days after the blisters first appear, they will burst open and become open sores, which can easily become infected. The chickenpox virus is a common and mostly non-serious illness - the biggest challenge most parents face with chicken pox is keeping their child from scratching these spots and creating infection and scaring. (My father put socks on my hands to keep me from scratching.) Chickenpox will last anywhere from 4 to 14 days, depending on the severity of the illness.
The Vaccine… Chicken Pox - Varivax (varicella virus vaccine live) –recommended at 12 months to 18 months.
The chickenpox vaccine is a live vaccine, which means that you’re actually given an extremely mild form of the virus. However, it’s not the wild chicken pox virus; it’s a much safer alternative. Most people who are vaccinated will show no signs of the disease and have no adverse reactions. However, 4% of people vaccinated will get a mild case of the chickenpox, which includes a light rash and a slight fever. This can happen anywhere up to three weeks after their immunization. The CDC has recently confirmed that this mild form of chicken pox can be contagious. They recommend that you isolate your child if they have a rash and for only as long as the rash is visible.
Does it even really work?
Since the varicella vaccine was approved in 1995 and is still considered a newer vaccine, there is still a lot they don’t know about its long-term effectiveness. Many people react differently to the wild chicken pox virus itself, because of this, the vaccine itself was difficult to develop and it’ll take time to perfect it. The CDC considers the varicella vaccine to be up to 75% effective. Even if it doesn’t protect you 100%, if you do catch the disease after being vaccinated, your body still has some protection. It’s proven that vaccinated children get less lesions, lower fevers, and overall milder cases of the disease. To this date, there is no booster shot recommended; however, with more and more reports of vaccinated children contracting chicken pox and the 75% effectiveness being so aggressively questioned, it doesn’t seem long before there will be changes.
With only 100 people dying of chicken pox within the United States each year, is it even worth getting this vaccine? We already know that it’s still under research so why not skip this shot and find out more about it first? Well, the leading argument for the vaccine by the FDA and the CDC is that it will save you time and money. Since vaccinated children have a milder form of the disease, they’ll recover quicker. This calculates into less work missed and less money spent at the doctor’s office. Then there’s the obvious argument of why not? If there’s a vaccine against something why even risk the virus’ rare and horrific side effects when you can take your chances with a vaccine instead? For many of us, chicken pox isn’t something from generations ago, we’ve experienced it and we know the reality of the disease. Don't kid yourself, chickenpox can be a dangerous illness and, because of how contagious it is, you may have to deal with this illness sooner rather than later. Once again, here is the game of chance that all parents must take – virus vs. vaccine. Let’s weigh the choices…
- Possible serious reactions to the chickenpox vaccine: Mild reactions include a slight rash, headache, fever, overall not feeling well that is characteristic of the chickenpox virus with the possibility of being contagious. The serious reactions include: hospitalizations, persistent or significant disabilities, and other incidents of medical importance. For example, the CDC and the FDA have analyzed adverse reactions reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and published a report that included numerous cases of neurological disorders, immune system damage, blood disorders, brain inflammation, seizures, and death. There is no average number of deaths available to the public.
- Possible serious reactions to the chickenpox virus: The most common complication of severe chickenpox illness is a bacterial infection that can involve many sites of the body including the skin around the blisters, bones, lungs, joints, and the blood. Other serious complications are due to the virus itself infecting the organs and include viral pneumonia, bleeding problems, and inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). There is an average of 100 deaths caused by chickenpox each year.
- People who should NOT get the chickenpox vaccine: Anyone who is allergic to gelatin, is taking steroids, has had a blood transfusion within the last five months, or anyone taking the antibiotic Neomycin. If you or your children have the flu or a cold when they’re scheduled to get any immunization, talk to your doctor about postponing it until everyone is completely recovered.
What if something goes wrong?
In the event your child has a vaccine-associated injury, or even if you think a vaccine might have caused a medical problem your child has, you should report the problem to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. Even if you are unsure if the reactions are caused by the vaccine it's still important to report it to Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The more information given to them the better...one of the purposes of VAERS is to help researchers identify unknown side effects, or even to show that some reactions are not caused by vaccines.
You can also report a vaccine reaction to Vaccine Adverse Event Reaction System yourself. The toll-free information line is 1-800-822-7967. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a federal program that offers compensation for the care of anyone believed to have been injured by vaccines. For more information, you can call the program toll-free at 1-800-338-2382.
The most important question of our time...
As with any type of health related issue, there is a lot of conflict and heated debate on the subject of vaccinations. I would expect nothing less when our children’s health is the topic of discussion! Unfortunately, parents should be able to trust the initialed committees and associations that are specifically established to do the research and let the public know what is in the best interest of children and, dare I say it… in the best interest of society. However, that isn’t always the case when there’s money involved, and there are billions of dollars involved in vaccinations. Don’t kid yourself, there are drug companies tripping over each other to be able to provide countries with necessary vaccinations, and many are very necessary. The most important and still unanswered question of our time is - which vaccinations are necessary and which aren’t worth the risk of the potentially horrific side effects? Will parents and doctors be able to sift through all of the information and propaganda to find the answer? If so, will it happen in my child’s lifetime?
Still have questions?
Call the CDC National Immunization Hotline at: (800) 232-2522. This is a government funded organization that’s full of information and you can ask any vaccine question you can think of. Write down your questions and call as much as you need to. If the first person you talk to can’t answer your question, then ask them who can. They’re up-to-date with all the latest news and headlines. These are our tax dollars at work here so feel free to use them!
- CDC's National Immunization Program
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reaction System 1-800-822-7967
- FDA - 1-800-835-4709 & 1-888-463-6332
- Search the FDA website
- Think Twice
- Kids Health
- Children's Hospital Information on Chickenpox
There is alot of conflicting information about vaccinations these days and everyone seems to have a different oppinion! I did my best to look for all sides of the story but, please remember that I'm not a doctor and nothing in this article should ever be taken as a replacement for true medical advice from your pediatrician. Keep good communication with your child's doctor and keep in mind that no matter what the question is... it's always worth asking.
Want to know more about vaccines?
Look in our Health & Safety Archives.