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The Informed Parent

Questions & Answers: Chicken Pox Vaccine

by Louis P. Theriot, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Sep. 15, 2004

Q:The doctor wants to give my daughter the chicken pox vaccine. She is 3 years old, and I'd just as soon let her get it on her own. Don't all kids get chicken pox? I am just so afraid of all these vaccines. Are they really safe?

A: Chicken pox, or varicella, is a viral infection that is spread through the respiratory tract, usually by coughing or sneezing. It causes a rash that starts as a small red bump (like an insect bite) that progressively enlarges into a blister or a fluid filled vessicle. After a few days, the blister bursts, crusts, and then scabs. These vessicles come in crops over a 7-10 day period, and may occur on any part of the body.

Some children are fortunate and get only a handful of lesions and others are not so lucky and can get hundreds. As the vessicles are in the crusting stages, they may itch profusely and make the child miserable. Because of the scratching, some of these lesions can get infected and require antibiotics. More serious complications of chicken pox include pneumonia and encephalitis.

There is no predicting if and when a child will get chicken pox. It is also impossible to predict how severe the case will be. Your daughter may not get chicken pox until she is in school (and has to miss 10 days of school), or until she is an adult (when the disease is much more serious and dangerous). She too, may be one of the less fortunate ones that gets unsightly scarring and pitting from the pox.

All of this is avoidable with the varicella vaccine. The vaccine has been around since the early 1970's, and has been shown to be very effective and safe. Numerous studies that confirm this have been conducted in the U.S. and abroad. Before you make such a critical decision, discuss it in detail with the doctor. It is a decision that should not be taken lightly.

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