Varicella (chickenpox) is a very contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Occurring most frequently in infants and young children, chickenpox causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness and fever. Chickenpox used to be very common in the United States, but frequency has diminished since the varicella vaccine became available for infants and children in 1995. Thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, the number of people who get chickenpox each year, as well as hospitalizations and deaths from chickenpox, has gone down dramatically in the United States. Among people who have had chickenpox, 1 out of every 3 is likely to develop shingles later in life.
The varicella (chickenpox) vaccine is the best protection against chickenpox. The vaccine is made from weakened VZV that produces an immune response in the body, providing protection against a chickenpox infection in the event of a later exposure to VZV.
There are two types of chickenpox vaccine currently available. Each vaccine is somewhat unique:
All children should be vaccinated for chickenpox at the ages listed above. Chickenpox vaccine is especially important for:
To check if you are protected from chickenpox, see Immunity (Protection) Against Chickenpox.
Some people with weakened immune systems who do not have immunity against chickenpox may be considered for vaccination after talking with their doctor, including people:
For more information on vaccination of people with weakened immune systems, see Vaccination Recommendations for Specific Populations.
Getting the chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting the disease. Most people who get the vaccine do not have any problems with it. But as with any vaccine, there is a very small chance of having a side effect. Serious side effects to the chickenpox vaccine are very rare. They are usually more likely to occur after the first dose than after the second one.
Possible reactions include:
Serious side effects from chickenpox vaccine are extremely rare. They may include severe brain reactions and low blood count. These side effects happen so rarely that experts cannot tell whether they are caused by the chickenpox vaccine.
If experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately for emergency care.