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Chickenpox Disease and Vaccine Quick Facts
- Chickenpox (Varicella) is a highly-contagious infection that is generally mild in most children;
- The virus is transmitted through direct contact with, or by inhaling particles from chickenpox blisters. It may also be spread through respiratory secretions of a person infected with the virus;
- Chickenpox generally begins between 10 and 21 days after exposure to the virus and the illness typically lasts between 5 and 10 days. In adults, initial chickenpox symptoms can include headache, fever, loss of appetite, and fatigue. These symptoms usually occur 1 to 2 days prior to the onset of a rash; however, in children, the rash is often the first sign of infection. When the chickenpox rash erupts, it will frequently begin with raised red or pink bumps that are followed by small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) that form from the initial bumps. These vesicles then break open and eventually crust and scab over. The rash usually starts on the head, progresses to the trunk, and finally to the arms and legs. The rash may also be present in the eyes, throat, and genitals;
- Complications from chickenpox are rare in healthy children and may occur more frequently in persons over age 15. Complications from chickenpox include pneumonia, central nervous system manifestations, bacterial infections of a skin lesion, and Reye syndrome. Persons with underlying immune disorders may be at a greater risk for complications from chickenpox;
- Recovery from chickenpox confers long lasting natural immunity and immunocompetent individuals rarely experience a second attack. Re-exposure to chickenpox has been found to boost immunity and reduce the risk of shingles infection in older children and adults.
- There are currently two varicella (chickenpox) vaccines used in the United States: Varivax, a live chickenpox virus vaccine and ProQuad, a combination measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) live virus vaccine, both produced and distributed by Merck. The CDC recommends children receive a first dose of chickenpox vaccine between age 12 and 15 months, and a second dose between age 4 and 6;
- Mild side effects, such as redness, rash, or pain at the injection site, as well as fever, have been reported following chickenpox vaccination. More serious side effects of chickenpox vaccine include meningitis, pneumonia, seizures, full body rash, allergic reaction, and death. Mild side effects following MMRV vaccination include rash, redness, or pain at the injection site, fever and swelling of the glands in the neck or cheeks. More serious side effects of MMRV vaccine may include loss of hearing, meningitis, pneumonia, full body rash, seizure, coma, brain damage, severe allergic reaction, and death;
- Chickenpox vaccine is reported to be between 80 and 85 percent effective at preventing chickenpox and more than 95 percent effective at preventing severe illness. The widespread use of chickenpox vaccine in the U.S. has substantially increased the rate of shingles infections in adults, as a natural boost of immunity from exposure to chickenpox in the environment is no longer occurring;
- As of February 1, 2024, there have been 195 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following chickenpox vaccination, including 13 deaths and 182 serious injuries;
- Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of January 26, 2024, there have been 104,790 reports of chickenpox vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following chickenpox vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS); this includes 243 related deaths, 3,866 hospitalizations, and 849 related disabilities. Nearly 52 percent of varicella vaccine-related adverse events occurred in children under six years of age.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Varicella Virus Vaccine Live Product Insert & Licensing Information
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Varicella Virus Vaccine Live Product Insert & Licensing Information
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CDC on Chickenpox (Varicella)
- CDC on Chickenpox/Varicella Vaccination
- CDC on Chickenpox/Varicella Vaccine Safety
- CDC on Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella Vaccine Safety
- Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine Information Statement
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella & Varicella (MMRV) Vaccine Information Statement
Search for Vaccine Reactions
NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.
Reporting a Vaccine Reaction
Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms
Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Chickenpox and the Chickenpox vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.