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Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine
What is chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by infection with the varicella zoster virus, which causes fever and an itchy rash. The rash typically consists of between 200 and 500 blister-like lesions covering the body that are usually concentrated on the face, scalp, and trunk. Chickenpox can be spread from an infected person who sneezes, coughs, or shares food or drink, even before the infected person has any symptoms. Adolescents and adults who contract chickenpox are more at risk for severe symptoms than are children. Most people will get chickenpox at some point in their lives unless they have gotten the varicella vaccine.
What is the chickenpox vaccine?
The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is a series of two shots that can protect nearly everyone who gets it from chickenpox. The first should be given at the age of 12-18 months; the second shot should be given at 4-6 years of age. Older children and adults should have two shots as well, with the second shot occurring at least 28 days after the first shot.
Who should get the chickenpox vaccine?
The chickenpox vaccine is recommended for all children under age 13 who have not had chickenpox. It's also recommended for all adolescents and adults who have not been vaccinated and have not had chickenpox. People who have had chickenpox do not need to get the vaccine, since a person is unlikely to get chickenpox twice.
Who should not receive the chickenpox vaccine?
- Persons with moderate or severe illness (for example, a severe cold, flu or infection of the sinuses or lungs) should not receive the vaccine until symptoms of the illness improve.
- People should consult their healthcare provider about whether they should get the chickenpox vaccine if they:
- Have HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
- Are being treated with steroids (such as prednisone) for 2 weeks or longer
- Have cancer or are receiving cancer treatment
- Have active, untreated tuberculosis
- Recently received a blood transfusion
- Women who are pregnant should wait to get the chickenpox vaccine until after they have given birth. Women who plan to become pregnant should wait one month after getting chickenpox vaccine before trying to conceive.
- People with an allergy or hypersensitivity to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin should not receive the vaccine.
- Those who previously had a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated.
What are the side effects of the chickenpox vaccine?
- Soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of injection
- Mild rash
- Mild to moderate fever (more common with the combination vaccine)
Severe problems (rare):
- Seizure caused by fever
- Serious allergic reactions, with symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Fast heartbeat
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to ease pain and reduce fever. It's extremely rare for these vaccines to cause serious harm or death. If there is a serious reaction, call a doctor or seek immediate medical attention.
It's recommended aspirin and aspirin-containing products be avoided in children for six weeks after receiving the vaccine to avoid Reye's syndrome, a disease that can cause complications in the liver and brain.
The chickenpox vaccine is available at Walgreens Pharmacy. Ages vary by state.*
If you believe you have a medical emergency, please call 911.
Call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at 800-232-4636 or visit www.cdc.gov/vaccines for more vaccine information.
Hamborsky J, Kroger A, Wolfe S, eds. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases. 13th ed. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation, 2015.
Vaccine Information Statement: Chickenpox Vaccine (What You Need to Know). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). March 13, 2008. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/vis-statements/varicella.html. Accessed June 2016.
*Vaccines subject to availability. State-, age- and health-related restrictions may apply.