Per Wikipedia:  “Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly contagious disease caused by the initial infection with varicella zoster virus (VZV). The disease results in a characteristic skin rash that forms small, itchy blisters, which eventually scab over. It usually starts on the chest, back, and face then spreads to the rest of the body. Other symptoms may include fever, tiredness, and headaches. Symptoms usually last five to seven days. Complications may occasionally include pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, and bacterial skin infections. The disease is often more severe in adults than in children. Symptoms begin 10 to 21 days after exposure to the virus.

“Chickenpox is an airborne disease which spreads easily through the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. It may be spread from one to two days before the rash appears until all lesions have crusted over. It may also spread through contact with the blisters. Those with shingles may spread chickenpox to those who are not immune through contact with the blisters. The disease can usually be diagnosed based on the presenting symptom; however, in unusual cases it may be confirmed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing of the blister fluid or scabs. Testing for antibodies may be done to determine if a person is or is not immune. People usually only get chickenpox once. Although reinfections by the virus occur, these reinfections usually do not cause any symptoms.”

According to the CDC, varicella has a rate of death of 1 in 35,000.  The CDC estimates that the vaccine is effective for approximately 10-20 years.  The vaccine is not entirely effective:  according to the CDC, full vaccination reduces the risk of infection by 72-88%.

Vaccine Statistics

When debating informed consent, it is important that people calculate the risk versus the reward for all options.  Here are some facts, according to VAERS and the CDC.

  • Prior to vaccination, an average of 100 infants died each year due to varicella infection
  • Since 2000, there have been 111 deaths reported to VAERS associated with the varicella vaccine
  • Since 2000, there have been 59,818 adverse events reported to VAERS, with the vast majority of them in children 1-5 years of age

Since 2000, there have been an average of 3.8 million live births in the US annually.  Approximately 92% of the population are vaccinated at two doses per series.  This leaves the odds of death at a little less than 1 in 1,000,000 due the varicella vaccine.  If the FDA’s assessment of reporting compliance is correct (<1%), this may be as high as 1 in 10,000, over three times the risk posed by the disease itself.  The problem with this calculation, however, is that we simply do not know the true number of deaths attributable to the measles vaccine due to our faulty reporting system.  Other statistics reported to VAERS since 2000:

  • 556 immediately life threatening complications
  • 490 permanent disabilities
  • 2142 hospitalizations or extensions of hospitalizations
  • 20,000 emergency room or office visits related to complications

It is entirely reasonable to look at these numbers and consider the rewards to be at least equivalent to the risk posed by the vaccine.  Under closer scrutiny, the risks posed by vaccination aren’t as much from the vaccine itself, but rather from failure to be infected by varicella at a young age when it is mostly a harmless nuisance.  Infection by varicella as an adult is the source of the majority of fatalities and serious complications.  Furthermore, vaccination has been demonstrated to raise the rates of shingles (an extremely painful and debilitating “flare-up” of varicella) in both children (which was extremely rare prior to vaccination) and adults.

Vaccine Safety

Vaccine Typelive virus/potential vector of transmission

Pregnancy ClassC

This section will reference the Varivax vaccine insert as provided by the FDA.  It should be noted that the single-disease version of the varicella vaccine is one of the few vaccines on the market that doesn’t use aluminum adjuvants.

Contraindications (do not administer):

  •  Sensitivity or allergy to any component of the vaccine (including neomycin and gelatin)
  • Immunosuppressed (as through steroids) or immunocompromised
  • Febrile illness
  • Untreated tuberculosis
  • Pregnancy

Adverse Reactions (as reported by the manufacturer):

  •  Fever, injection site soreness/swelling/erythema/rash/pruritis/hematoma/induration/stiffness, varicella rash, upper respiratory illness, cough, irritability/nervousness, fatigue, disturbed sleep, diarrhea, loss of appetitie, vomiting, otitis, diaper/contact rash, headache, malaise, abdominal pain, other rash, nausea, eye complaints, chills, lymphadenopathy, myalgia, lower respiratory illness, allergic reactions, anaphylaxis, stiff neck, heat rash, arthralgia, eczema/dermatitis, constipation, itching, pneumonitis, febrile seizures, angioneurotic edema, facial edema, peripheral edema, necrotizing retinitis, aplastic anemia, thrombocytopenia, encephalitis, stroke, transverse myelitis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Bell’s palsy, ataxia, non-febrile seizures, aseptic meningitis, meningitis, dizziness, paresthesia, pharyngitis, pneumonia/pneumonitis, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, erythema multiforme, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, secondary bacterial infections of skin and soft tissue including impetigo and cellulitis

Scientific Studies

Editor’s Opinion

It is widely known that varicella is a benign disease in childhood, and much more dangerous during adulthood.  Furthermore, any treatment that predisposes an individual towards a more severe condition (shingles) should be looked at with close scrutiny.  While varicella infections usually last for 10-14 days, shingles can last for 2-4 weeks, and cause debilitating pain for weeks afterwards.  Even ignoring the—admittedly minor—risks posed by the vaccine itself, for this reason alone we do not recommend that children are administered the varicella vaccine.  In adults that have previously contracted varicella or been vaccinated, we recommend administration of the VZV (shingles) vaccine according to standard schedules to reduce the risk of shingles.