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THE VACCINE REACTION, MAY 1995
CHICKEN POX VACCINE SHIPPED OUT
Doctors' offices around the country began receiving supplies of the newly licensed chicken pox vaccine at the beginning of May. When the vaccine was licensed by the FDA in March, NVIC issued a public statement and NVIC's president appeared on the March 20 NBC "Today Show" questioning the CDC and AAP recommendation calling for mass use of the live varicella zoster vaccine by all healthy children.
The chicken pox vaccine, which is being manufactured by Merck & Co. and will cost about $40 per shot, has been controversial for many years because chicken pox is a usually mild disease in childhood and even its developers admit that the vaccine only causes temporary immunity. The question remains as to whether mass vaccination in childhood will drive chicken pox disease into the older adult population where it can cause many more deaths and complications. This possibility exists not only because immunity will wear off in those who have been vaccinated but also because chicken pox disease will not be as prevalent in the population.
TEMPORARY IMMUNITY, LIFE-LONG RISK
In other words, if many healthy children get vaccinated today, over time fewer and fewer unvaccinated children will have the opportunity to get chicken pox and become permanently immune to the disease. As adults, the unvaccinated children will be just as much at risk for getting chicken pox later in life and suffering more severe complications as will the vaccinated whose temporary vaccine-induced immunity has worn off. (This is the same scenario that occurred with measles and mumps disease, which are also more serious in adults than in children). Another unknown vaccine risk is the fact that varicella zoster (chicken pox) is caused by a herpes virus and the live vaccine virus could lie dormant in the body for decades and then re-emerge later in life in the form of shingles in many vaccinated adults.
The chicken pox vaccine was originally developed for children at high risk for complications from chicken pox such as children with leukemia or compromised immune systems. Recent publicity about the need to vaccinate all healthy children has centered on the costs associated with parents having to stay home with children for the several weeks it takes for the chicken pox sores to disappear. Other publicity has focused on the few children who get infected chicken pox sores and go on to develop bacterial superinfections, including necrotizing fascitis (flesh eating bacteria).
REDUCING DISEASE COMPLICATIONS
Several ways that have been recommended to cut down on rare chicken pox sore complications include bathing children in anti-bacterial soap during the course of the disease as well as avoiding both aspirin and ibuprofen to bring down fevers. Use of aspirin during a bout with chicken pox has been linked to Reyes Syndrome.
Officials with the Seattle King County Health Department suggested in February that use of ibuprofen may increase the chances of infected chicken pox sores leading to necrotizing fascitis. There is some speculation that the over-prescription of antibiotics by doctors for the past several decades has resulted in both children and adults being more susceptible to bacterial superinfections when there is a lesion in the skin.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Learn More About Chickenpox and Chickenpox Vaccine
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