Chicken Pox Vaccinations: Just one shot prevents the spots

March 1998

Media Contacts: Traci Simmons, 404/727-8599,
Sarah Goodwin, 404/727-3366 -

ATLANTA -- Each year in the winter and early spring, chicken pox shows its spotted face. Once considered a childhood rite of passage, chicken pox is now a preventable disease. Thanks to the March 1995 approval of Varivax, the "chicken pox shot," children no longer face an inevitable week of itching and an unsightly rash. However, the public's slow acceptance of this vaccine means that many children must still endure the illness.

"Varicella vaccinations prevent 95 percent of serious chicken pox cases," say Karen Dewling, M.D., a pediatrician at The Emory Clinic North. As a proponent of the vaccination, she notes that several states are now planning to require it for school entry. While the percentage of children who have serious illness from chicken pox is low, the number of children who suffer from significant complications is high. Approximately 80-90 percent of children have been infected by age nine or ten. Nationally, this translates to 50 to 100 deaths in children and over 5,000 hospital admissions per year. Complications include skin infections, pneumonia and central nervous system infections.

"We have the ability to eliminate this risk for our children with a very safe and well-tolerated vaccine," says Dr. Dewling. "The vaccine can be given to any child who has not had chicken pox any time after the first birthday, with few exceptions."

The shot is now routinely offered for children between 12 and 18 months of age and again in people ages 13 years through adulthood, for the few children that managed to avoid the infection earlier in childhood. Reactions to the vaccine are very mild and include soreness at the injection site and 2-5 blisters that may occur on the skin in a few vaccine recipients.

The slow acceptance of this vaccine centers around questions about how long the immunity will last. Some fear that if immunity decreases over time, we will leave a large population of adults vulnerable to the disease. Adults who contract chicken pox have a much higher risk of complications. Japanese studies indicate that the vaccine is protective for more than 20 years. Studies in the United States show protection for at least 7-10 years. Researchers believe that most vaccine recipients will develop life-long immunity.

"The vaccination and the arguments against its use are pretty similar to those heard 30 years ago when the measles vaccination was first introduced," says Dr. Dewling. "I think you'll find gradual acceptance over time as many of these issues are laid to rest." She urges parents to discuss the issue with their pediatrician and to read the publication by the CDC regarding chicken pox vaccination.

Please call 770-814-1000 to reach The Emory Clinic North located at 5955 State Bridge Road in North Fulton.


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