Is it a good idea to have the chickenpox vaccination to protect yourself or your child from chickenpox? Below we discuss the important points to consider when making your decision.
What is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly infectious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. The virus causes a fever and a rash of red, intensely itchy spots which may cover the whole body. The spots turn into fluid filled blisters (containing the virus) and then crust over to form scabs which eventually drop off.
Chickenpox is most common in children under the age of 10 years, when it usually causes what is considered to be a relatively mild illness with complete recovery. Nevertheless, children can feel very miserable, irritable and itchy, and some permanent scarring may result. Occasionally, even in healthy children, the virus may lead to a much more serious illness such as pneumonia, meningitis, bacterially-infected skin lesions and even death.
When caught at an older age, the virus tends to cause a more severe illness with a greater potential for serious complications such as pneumonia, eye problems, encephalitis, septicaemia (blood poisioning), a variety of infections and death. Chickenpox is particularly risky if caught by pregnant women (as it can cause foetal abnormalities), young babies or people with a weakened immune system. For this reason, people with chickenpox should always stay away from these vulnerable groups (ideally at home if possible) until all of their spots have scabbed over, meaning that they are no longer infectious.
The chickenpox virus lies dormant in the nervous system after recovery, but it may reactivate in later life to cause shingles.
About the Chickenpox Vaccination
In the UK, the chickenpox vaccination is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule (however it is routinely given to children in the USA). Long-term trials over a lifetime have not yet been carried out, however the recommended two doses of the chickenpox vaccination are estimated to offer 98% protection against chickenpox in children and 75% protection in adolescents and adults. Immunity is good for up to at least 20 years after the vaccination, with ongoing studies investigating how immunity following vaccination compares with immunity following the disease itself over a range of time periods.
The chickenpox vaccination is a live vaccine so occasionally it may be possible to develop the infection after vaccination. The vaccine can be given to both children and adults. In some cases, people may develop chickenpox at some point in the future even after vaccination but it is generally much milder.
The chickenpox vaccination is considered to be safe, with generally mild side-effects which include pain, redness/rash at the injection site, mild fever and irritability. It is not yet clear how the chickenpox vaccination affects the chances of a person developing shingles in later life, although there is now a shingles vaccination available which significantly reduces this risk.
So, should my child have the Chickenpox Vaccination?
This really comes down to parental choice, however the important facts to consider are:
- Although it usually causes a ‘mild’ illness, chickenpox is capable of causing extremely serious disease and complications, even in children/adults who were completely healthy before catching it. There is no way of knowing which children/adults will be affected in this way.
- Chickenpox is a very contagious disease which can be easily passed to other family members or contacts.
- Chickenpox can lead to considerable time off work for parents as people with chickenpox should remain at home until every blister has scabbed over, and it can take up to three weeks to feel better. As the incubation period is up to 21 days, the time off work can be even longer than this if there is more than one child in the household who may catch the disease.
- It is not known how long the immunity from the chickenpox vaccination lasts, compared to the immunity gained from catching the disease itself. It may be possible to have a booster if immunity is found to have dropped considerably, or a shingles vaccination may be more appropriate in the older agegroup.
If you would like discuss the possibility of you or your child receiving the chickenpox vaccination, or to go ahead with booking the vaccination, please call The Walcote Practice on 01962 828715.