Chickenpox Vaccine: Yea or Nea?
August 3, 2006 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Chickenpox Vaccine: Yea or Nea? This would be for a 15-month-old child.

After a great deal of research on vaccinations, we decided to get all the recommended ones for our son. I'm not sure about the Chickenpox vaccination though. Is it really necessary? Do the potential benefits outweigh the dangers? Extra information: he is not in day care. We also have an 11-year-old in public school who has not had Chickenpox or the vaccine. My wife and I both had Chickenpox as children. (I know vaccines are a contentious topic, so I'd like to try to narrow this discussion to the pros/cons of the Chickenpox vaccine. Thanks.)
posted by Otis to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No one (usually) dies from or is crippled by chickenpox so it's not strictly necessary. I had chickenpox twice and it's no fun though. We got our kids this vaccine because it's just one less thing to worry about. If you're going to get the other vaccines, one more isn't going to make any difference in terms of risk exposure. (and personally, I think the benefits outweight any potential risks, but yeah, not everyone agrees with that. )
posted by GuyZero at 6:54 AM on August 3, 2006

One of the issues we talked about before vaccinating our kids was that the vaccine only lasts about 20 years, and chicken pox in adulthood (shingles) is a whole lot nastier than it is in kids. But we decided to go ahead, with the assumption that by the time the kids are in their 20s, there will be some sort of permanent vaccine available, and it would be a non-issue.
posted by hamfisted at 6:54 AM on August 3, 2006

Well, anecdotally, I can say it worked for my daughter, now 11. She had the vaccine, and had no adverse reaction. She was exposed to chickenpox at about 5 years old, by a friend with a full-blown case. My daughter got about 5 bumps, and that was it. YMMV, of course.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:55 AM on August 3, 2006

My daughter (4) is in pre-school in the regular, public school system for other services, and they required that she either have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine when we registered her. Your school system may be moving that way- I would suggest calling the administration building to find out what the requirements are now, to give an idea of what the requirements will be when your son goes to kindergarten. They don't continue to check shot records after they see the kindergarten one, I don't think, but the kindergarten one has to be up to date when you register.

Aside from bureaucracy- both my kids ended up getting chicken pox on their own and I was a little glad. Friends who have kids who had the vaccine still get chicken pox, just not as bad, and they've all gotten it more than once. However, these kids were vaccinated in the mid-90s, when the vaccine was brand new, and newer formulations might be more effective.
posted by headspace at 7:01 AM on August 3, 2006

I got it for my daughter the first year it was available. She's never had chicken pox, even when her friends did. I understand she will need a booster soon, but that's okay. The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer incidents in the population at large. If your 11 yr. old hasn't had chickenpox, you ought to get him the vaccine - he's reaching the age where it will do damage.

I was very sick with chickenpox. My husband nearly died with mumps. "Simple" childhood diseases aren't always so simple.

Shingles isn't from getting the disease when you're older. Once you've had chickenpox (& presumably once you've had the vaccine), it lives in your body for the rest of your life and can reappear at any time in the form of shingles.
posted by clarkstonian at 7:14 AM on August 3, 2006

While chickenpox in adulthood is not shingles, chickenpox in adulthood is indeed much more serious. It's in adulthood that most of the deaths from chickenpox occur.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:23 AM on August 3, 2006

As a side note, they're currently working on a shingles vaccine to help reduce the incidences of shingles in the adult population.

Overall, there haven't been any major problems reported with the chicken pox vaccine so far (the adverse affects of it are less severe and less frequent than with a chicken pox infection). The normal "worst case" of a vaccine is that while it doesn't prevent you from getting chicken pox, it does makes your infection less severe.

The main downside of the vaccine is that adults who already had normal chicken pox get reexposed to the virus less often, perhaps making shingles more likely in people who have not had the vaccine, but as I say above, a shingles vaccine is likely.
posted by skynxnex at 7:26 AM on August 3, 2006

The disadvantages strike me as minor compared to the potential problems if your child actually did get chicken pox. The US CDC has a good
information sheet
about the risks and benefits.

In the long view, a vaccine not only protects your child from infection, it also protects other individuals as well. That is, it prevents your child from spreading the infection to others for whom it would be more than a minor inconvenience (e.g., an elderly relative, a pregnant woman). That to me is a tremendous benefit and by far outweights the risks.
posted by drmarcj at 7:32 AM on August 3, 2006

One of the issues we talked about before vaccinating our kids was that the vaccine only lasts about 20 years, and chicken pox in adulthood (shingles) is a whole lot nastier than it is in kids

Shingles is different than chickenpox (although it involves the same pathogen being "reactivated" after years or decades of dormancy). According this site "Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles". I know someone who has gone through a really bad bout of shingles, with pain that lasted for over 24 months. Could he have avoided that if he'd been vaccinated as a kid? Don't know, but it's another thing to consider.
posted by bluefrog at 7:37 AM on August 3, 2006

Varicella vaccine was created and marketed for 3 reasons:

1) To reduce or eliminate chickenpox in the general population and thereby eliminate it in pregnant women where it can cause birth defects. Some public health workers would recommend that you vaccinate your child not to protect him or her, but to protect the general community. (Note that in a population where chickenpox is endemic - as ours used to be - pregnant women are almost always immune because of childhood exposure. As children are increasingly vaccinated against the disease, fewer pregnant women will be immune, causing the unvaccinated children to present a bigger public health problem to those future pregnant women - if that makes any sense).

2) To reduce discomfort in kids having the disease. Since varicella rarely causes serious complications in children, vaccinating your child will simply protect her from a certain level of discomfort. Are you the kind of parent who feels comfortable hanging with a sick kid? Does illness scare you - or feel normal? These are the kinds of questions to think about.
posted by serazin at 7:38 AM on August 3, 2006

Ha! I guess there were only 2 reasons?? I forgot the third...
posted by serazin at 7:38 AM on August 3, 2006

I was part of the last generation pre-vaccine to get chickenpox. How common is it in schools in kids now?

I'd go vaccine, especially since it's less likely your kids will actually *get* chickenpox now, and the older they get, the more serious it is if they were to get infected with chickenpox.
posted by gramcracker at 7:48 AM on August 3, 2006

I had chicken pox when I was 12 (well, about 2 months away from 13). I had a pretty bad case, missed the first 2 weeks of 8th grade and ended up with several scars that have lasted to this day.

I then passed the pox onto my sister who was 17 at the time. She had a seriously severe case, much worse than mine, and mine was pretty bad.

Not vaccinating your child now just increases his chances of being exposed to it later in life, when it will be more serious and less convenient (like his first semester of college when he is infected by his formerly homeschooled roommmate who came from an anit-vaccine family).

If you decide against the vaccine, try to find him an infected playmate so he can get it over with while he is still young.
posted by necessitas at 7:56 AM on August 3, 2006

Get the vaccine. As GuyZero said above, one less thing to worry about. My 6yro was vaccinated with all the possible vaccinations on schedule and she had no adverse reactions. I had a pretty bad case of chickenpox when I was a kid and it was horrible.

A friend of mine never had chickenpox as a child--until she was about 14; then she got the disease from her grandmother who had shingles. It was not a fun time for my friend.

I think that whatever you can spare them from getting, you should do so.
posted by cass at 8:04 AM on August 3, 2006

And right here is another reason why. (Granted, it's measles, but still...)
posted by cass at 8:43 AM on August 3, 2006

I vote Yes.

Shingles are pure firey hell. I have an otherwise-healthy aunt who becomes disabled when her shingles flare up. If I had a chance to prevent a child going through what my aunt suffers every summer, I'd grab it with both hands.
posted by bonehead at 8:56 AM on August 3, 2006

Yes, not just for her, but to protect the public at large.
posted by LarryC at 8:56 AM on August 3, 2006

I never had chicken pox as a child; instead I caught it at the ripe old age of twenty-five. Adult chicken pox is pretty terrible, and my doctor said she'd never seen a case as bad as mine: thousands of pustules from scalp to sole (and inside my nose and, well, everywhere you can think of) that lasted for weeks. During that time, I was unable to recognise myself in the mirror, and was ultimately left with some permanent scarring, some of which is on my face. I have a friend who suffered a similarly bad bout in her twenties, and both of us consider our outbreaks traumatic experiences that took a long time to recover from emotionally (yes, it's possible we've led sheltered lives, but still).

As you might imagine, I'm for the vaccination.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:00 AM on August 3, 2006

I'd say no, but find a nice chicken pox party soon. It isn't a big deal in kids and your natural immunity (in this case) is superior to manufactured immunity.
posted by dame at 9:04 AM on August 3, 2006

I got the chicken pox at 5, when my siblings were 3 and 1. We got very bad cases. We had chicken pox on our eyeballs, insides our throats and mouths, and, apparently, even inside our body. In fact, many of the pocks were bigger than a quarter. It went on for three weeks and I missed school. It was awful. You can die, go blind or have other awful things happen. But even the pain and sickness itself was really awful. My youngest sibling was still a baby in diapers and it was an awful, awful experience for my mom to try to clean up her diapers. Also, my dad was away on a business trip and none of my mom's friends could come help because they all had small children.

I know other people who got chicken pox as teens and adults. They ended up with complications and singles. Awful.

I know some people just get mild cases and that it isn't too bad. But you can die or have awful complications. I also know some moms whose kids got chicken pox at a few months old and who were thus suddenly isolated from all the other moms. Even that is really hard when you are home alone.
posted by acoutu at 9:14 AM on August 3, 2006

You can ask yourself the following question:

Do I want my child to have DNA material that he/she was not born with to reside forever, in a latent form, in the sensory dorsal root ganglions? Oh, and just for giggles, when your child grows up and their immune system enters age-related senescence, the virus can reactivate to travel down the sensory nerves and break out in a painful/occasionally dangerous rash.

If yes, then by all means don't take advantage of modern medicine.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:16 AM on August 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

I got chicken pox when I was 14 and it was awful. Not as serious as some of the previously mentioned cases, but bad enough. Missed school for 2 weeks, itched like crazy, came back with some ugly pockmarks on face (one scar is still visible 30 years later!).

Spare your kid the itches and scars, get the vaccine.
posted by Quietgal at 9:30 AM on August 3, 2006

It isn't a big deal in kids and your natural immunity (in this case) is superior to manufactured immunity.

Well, maybe, but "natural immunity" is not perfect. I got chicken pox twice - once in Canada, once in England. And, to top it off, it didn't break out until we were halfway across the continent to visit my aunt in Hungary. So sometime in the early 80's, I got to cross the Iron Curtain from Austria to Hungary with full-blown chicken pox - I was covered head to toe. With my second bout of chicken pox.
posted by GuyZero at 10:10 AM on August 3, 2006

serazin: this doesn't apply to the asker, but another reason it was created was for people who are either immunocompromised, or have a respiratory system (and, I suppose, integumentary or other involved systems) that would be hard-hit by the stress.

That's why herd immunity is so great - Patient X is protected from the disease not just by the vaccine they themselves got, but by the fact that no one else is carrying it.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 12:05 PM on August 3, 2006

Okay GuyZero. But I'm guessing that would have happened were you vaccinated, too, since apparently, the vaccine is worse, no?
posted by dame at 12:38 PM on August 3, 2006

Worse? As in, the vaccine is less effective at stoping infections than having been infected once already? I don't know. I doubt there's any way to answer that question. I don't know anything about different strains of chicken pox or what the vaccine targets or whether my different strains theory is even correct - maybe I just got the same chicken pox twice. Lucky me. My only point is that chicken pox antibodies obtained from exposure to the disease aren't perfect, so the vaccine is equally effective from the perspective of not being perfect.
posted by GuyZero at 1:12 PM on August 3, 2006

Quackwatch write-up on chicken pox vaccine.
posted by acoutu at 3:54 PM on August 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. We decided to go ahead with the vaccine.
posted by Otis at 4:55 AM on August 10, 2006

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