The varicella vaccine protects against chickenpox (varicella), a common and very contagious childhood viral illness. It also protects against shingles. It is a live attenuated vaccine, which means it contains a weakened form of the virus.
Chickenpox Immunization Schedule
The varicella vaccine is given as a shot when kids are between 12 and 15 months old. They get a booster shot for further protection at 4 to 6 years of age.
Kids who are older than 6 but younger than 13 who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine should get the 2 doses given 3 months apart. Kids 13 years or older should get their 2 vaccine doses 1 to 2 months apart.
Sometimes the varicella vaccine is given in combination with the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, in a vaccine called MMRV. Kids up to 13 years old can get this vaccine.
Why Is the Chickenpox Vaccine Recommended?
Chickenpox used to be common in the US, causing many hospitalizations and even deaths. Since the vaccine was introduced in 1995, it has prevented millions of infections every year. It prevents severe illness in almost all kids who are vaccinated. It's also very effective in preventing mild illness. Vaccinated kids who do get chickenpox generally have a mild case.
If a person with no immunity to the virus is exposed to someone with chickenpox or shingles, they are likely to get infected because the virus is so contagious. Giving the vaccine within 3 to 5 days after exposure can help to prevent the infection.
Possible Risks of Chickenpox Immunization
Possible mild effects are tenderness and redness where the shot was given, fever, tiredness, and a varicella-like illness. There is a very small chance of an allergic reaction with any vaccine.
A rash can happen up to 1 month after the injection. It may last for several days but will disappear on its own without treatment. There is a very small risk of febrile seizures after vaccination with MMRV.
When to Delay or Avoid Chickenpox Immunization
The varicella vaccine is not recommended if your child:
Talk to your doctor about whether the vaccine is a good idea if your child:
- is currently sick. Generally, simple colds and other minor illness should not stop your child from getting a vaccine.
- takes aspirin. People who take aspirin should stop for 6 weeks when getting the chickenpox vaccine.
- has gotten any other vaccines in the past month, or blood products in the past few months (such as from a transfusion), because some can affect how well the chickenpox vaccine will work
- has ever had a low platelet count
Your doctor may decide that the benefits of vaccinating your child outweigh the potential risks.
Pregnant women should not get the chickenpox vaccine until after they give birth.
Caring for Your Child After Chickenpox Immunization
Check with your doctor to see if you can give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever and to find out the right dose.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call your doctor if:
- You aren't sure if the vaccine should be postponed or avoided.
- There are problems after the immunization.