Chickenpox Disease and Vaccine Quick Facts
- Chickenpox (Varicella) is a highly-contagious infection that is generally mild in most children;1
- Chickenpox 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;2
- 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.3 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.4 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;5
- 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;6
- Recovery from chickenpox confers long lasting natural immunity and immunocompetent individuals rarely experience a second attack.7 Re-exposure to chickenpox has been found to boost immunity and reduce the risk of shingles infection in older children and adults.8
- There are currently two varicella (chickenpox) vaccines used in the United States: 1) Varivax, a live chickenpox virus vaccine9 and 2) ProQuad, a combination measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) live virus vaccine, both produced and distributed by Merck.10 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;11
- 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.12 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;13
- Chickenpox vaccine is reported to be between 70 and 90 percent effective at preventing chickenpox and between 90 and 100 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe illness from chickenpox infection.14 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;15
- As of Aug 1, 2019, there have been more than 167 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following chickenpox vaccination, including 11 deaths and 156 serious injuries;
- Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of May 31, 2019, there have been more than 89,018 reports of chickenpox vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following chickenpox vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS); this includes 197 related deaths, 3,187 hospitalizations, and 730 related disabilities. Over 53 percent of varicella vaccine-related adverse events occurred in children six years old and under.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
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.
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1 MedlinePlus Chickenpox Jan. 30, 2019
2 CDC Chickenpox (Varicella) For Healthcare Professionals – Transmission Dec. 31, 2018
3 CDC Varicella – Clinical Features Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
4 Mayo Clinic Chickenpox – Symptoms Feb. 27, 2019
5 CDC Varicella – Clinical Features Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
7 Bechtel K Pediatric Chickenpox Medscape Nov. 30, 2018
8 NHS Why aren't children in the UK vaccinated against chickenpox? Sep. 20, 2016
9 FDA Varivax Package Insert Jan 23, 2019
10 FDA PROQUAD Package Insert. Jan. 22, 2019
11 CDC Prevention of Varicella - Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) MMWR Jun. 22, 2007; 56(RR04);1-40
12 CDC Chickenpox VIS Feb. 12, 2018
13 CDC MMRV (Measles, Mumps, Rubella & Varicella) VIS Feb. 12, 2018
14 CDC Varicella – Vaccines Containing Varicella Virus Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.
15 Mercola J Is the Chickenpox Vaccine Creating a Shingles Epidemic? The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 20, 2018