Did you know that chickenpox is most likely to occur during late winter and spring? As winter approaches, when you talk to your child’s doctor about ways to stay healthy this season, remember to also ask about the chickenpox vaccine. Your doctor may recommend a second dose of the chickenpox vaccine for your child.
This winter is an opportune time for healthcare providers and parents to make sure children are up to date with all appropriate vaccinations, including the chickenpox vaccine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) includes the chickenpox vaccine on the list of recommended vaccines for school-aged children. While requirements vary from state to state, many states require chickenpox vaccination or evidence of immunity for school or childcare attendance.
Chickenpox, which is highly contagious, occurs most often in children 5 to 9 years old and is most likely to occur during late winter and early spring. As some parents may remember from their childhood, the most common symptoms of chickenpox are rash, fever, headache and general discomfort. Although usually mild, chickenpox can sometimes lead to less common but serious complications, such as pneumonia.
VARIVAX® (Varicella Virus Vaccine Live) is a live virus vaccine that is given as a shot. VARIVAX is meant to help prevent chickenpox, which is also known as varicella, in people 12 months of age and older.
Your child should not get VARIVAX if he or she is allergic to any of its ingredients including gelatin and neomycin; has a weakened immune system, such as an immune deficiency, an inherited immune disorder, leukemia, lymphoma, or HIV/AIDS; takes high doses of steroids by mouth or in a shot; has active tuberculosis that is not treated; has a fever; is pregnant or plans to get pregnant within the next three months.
If your child is 12 months to 12 years old and his or her doctor gives a second dose, the second dose must be given at least three months after the first shot. A second dose should be given to those who first get the vaccine when they are 13 years old or older. This second dose should be given four to eight weeks after the first dose.
“It’s important to remember that one dose of the chickenpox vaccine may not provide enough protection,” says Dr. Patricia Samuelson, a California family physician known for her public service and dedication to improving vaccination. “Chickenpox that occurs after vaccination is called breakthrough chickenpox. Most cases of breakthrough chickenpox are mild; however around 25 to 30 percent of breakthrough cases after one dose can be more serious with symptoms similar to what individuals would experience if they haven’t been vaccinated.”
In a study, children vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine are three times less likely to develop breakthrough chickenpox than those vaccinated with just one dose (2.2 percent vs 7.5 percent). In 2006, the CDC instituted a two-dose recommendation to help provide better individual protection.
Data from a 2010 CDC survey showed that an estimated 58.1 percent of teens 13-17 years of age with no history of chickenpox had received two doses of the varicella vaccine. The CDC conducted the National Immunization Survey-Teen (NIS-Teen) to collect immunization information for adolescents 13-17 years of age to estimate vaccination coverage in this age group. Immunization data was collected through telephone interviews with randomly selected households and confirmed through records supplied by the adolescents’ health care providers. This was a nationally representative sample of 19,257 adolescents.
So this winter talk to your doctor or health care provider to find out if your child is up to date on the chickenpox vaccine. He or she will use the official recommendations to decide the number of shots needed and when to get them. If a dose is missed, your health care provider will let you know when your child should have it.
Important Information about VARIVAX
Your child should not take aspirin or aspirin-containing products for 6 weeks after getting VARIVAX.
The most common side effects reported after taking VARIVAX are: fever; pain, swelling, itching, or redness at the site of the shot; chickenpox-like rash on the body or at the site of the shot; irritability.
Other less common side effects have also been reported: tingling of the skin; shingles.
VARIVAX may not protect everyone who gets it. VARIVAX does not treat chickenpox once your child has it.
Only your health care provider can decide if VARIVAX is right for your child.
Prescribing information and patient product information for VARIVAX are available at
This information is provided by Merck.