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Facts About...

Chickenpox Vaccines (Varivax III®, Varilrix®)

What is it?

Chickenpox vaccine protects against chickenpox - an illness caused by a virus called varicella zoster. This virus is very common and can make people sick. Children with chickenpox may have:

  • tiredness
  • chills
  • muscle or joint aches
  • headache
  • fever
  • raised itchy red blisters

Skin infections are the most common complication and can be mild or severe.  Chickenpox can also lead to infection in the:

  • lungs
  • brain
  • and rarely a skin infection called flesh-eating disease

A person who has had chickenpox can get a painful rash called shingles years later.

(For more information, see Facts About... Chickenpox).

How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?

Chickenpox vaccine is estimated to provide 94.4% protection after one dose and 98.3% protection after the second dose. Someone who has had the vaccine may still get chickenpox. However, the recovery is faster and the symptoms tend to be very mild.

Who should receive the vaccine?

Chickenpox vaccine is recommended for healthy people older than 12 months of age who have never had chickenpox. Children with a history of chickenpox before 12 months of age can receive 2 doses of vaccine.

The vaccine may also be given to people not previously immunized who have been in contact with someone who has chickenpox within 3 to 5 days after exposure.

Other people may be at risk and are also recommended to receive the chickenpox vaccine:

  • Women of childbearing age, and who are not pregnant
  • Household contacts of immunocompromised people
  • Health care workers
  • Adults who may be exposed to chickenpox because of the work they do (e.g., teachers of young children, day care workers)
  • Immigrants and refugees from tropical climates who are more likely to be susceptible to chickenpox
  • People receiving chronic salicylic acid therapy
  • People with cystic fibrosis
  • Immunocompromised individuals should speak with their healthcare provider

The vaccine is free for children born on or after January 1, 2000 and people with certain medical conditions (discuss with your healthcare provider).

What is the schedule for the vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is given in a series of 2 doses:

  • The first dose is given at age 15 months;
  • For those children who have received their second measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, the second dose of chickenpox vaccine is given at 18 months; and
  • For those children who have not received their second MMR vaccine, the second dose of chickenpox vaccine is combined with the MMR vaccine, in one injection called the MMRV vaccine. This is given between 4–6 years of age.

*2 doses of chickenpox vaccine are required under the Immunization of School Pupils Act to attend school in Ontario for students born on or after January 1, 2010.

Note: The first doses of MMR and chickenpox vaccines can either be given on the same day or 28 days apart. Chickenpox vaccines must have an interval of 3 months between them.

Are there side effects with the vaccine?

Chickenpox vaccine is very safe.

The most common reported side effects are:

  • pain, soreness, redness, swelling, itching and/or rash
  • a low-grade fever (less than 38°C)

A cold, wet compress to the site and/or acetaminophen can be used to help to relieve pain, swelling, and/or fever after vaccination.

Salicylates (ASA or aspirin) should not be given for 6 weeks after receiving chickenpox vaccine, unless indicated by a health care provider.

Severe allergic reactions after vaccination are very rare and may not be related to the vaccine. However, if you think a serious reaction is developing, seek medical attention right away. Any unusual or significant changes in your health or your child’s health after the immunization should be reported to a doctor/health care provider and the Health Department.

Who should NOT get the vaccine?

  • Children less than 1 year of age
  • Anyone who has had a serious allergic reaction (called anaphylaxis) to a previous dose of varicella vaccine
  • Any component in a vaccine may be a potential allergen. The most common for varicella are::

Pregnant women or women considering pregnancy should wait for 4 weeks following vaccination with varicella vaccines.

If you have any medical conditions, discuss the vaccine with a healthcare provider to determine if you should receive it.

Your record of protection

After you or your child receives a vaccine, update your immunization record (yellow card). For children in school or child care, please call the Health Department to update your child’s immunization records. Keep your records in a safe place!

* Parents must contact the Health Department if you object to immunization based on conscious or religious beliefs, or if your child cannot be immunized for medical reasons.

August 20, 2015