What Are Chicken Pox Vaccine Side Effects?

Much has been said in the media recently about the disadvantages of vaccines and the potential for health complications that can develop after the administration of vaccines. The flip side to all the negative attention vaccines have received is the positive effects vaccines can have. For example, polio, as a disease, has been largely eradicated by the use of widespread vaccination program worldwide. Chicken pox is also a highly infectious disease that can be eradicated by vaccination. But how safe is it?

 Side Effects of Chicken Pox Vaccine

As with many helpful and life-saving medicines, the chicken pox vaccine also has side effects. The safety of the vaccine should be weighed up against the potential side effects so that the best decision is made: to vaccinate or not. It should be noted, however, that most people that get the vaccination have no problems as a result. Serious side effects are extremely rare and some mild side effects are experienced by a few. Some common chicken pox vaccine side effects are:

  • Inflammation at the injection site-this can present as soreness, redness or swelling around the area the injection site. The vaccine is usually administered into the upper arm so the arm may become stiff. This is a temporary effect and will resolve after a few days.
  • Low grade fever-this is your body's response to the foreign antigen introduced. About 10% of people vaccinated get a low-grade fever. This also resolves between hours and a few days after vaccination.
  • Mild skin rash
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

See your doctor immediately if you develop any of the following chicken pox vaccine side effects:

  • Chickenpox which looks like skin rash-this can be a mild case of chickenpox. You are infectious now and should avoid people with weakened immune systems. This side effect is extremely rare.
  • Seizures-this effect cannot be definitively attributed to the vaccination. It may or may not be directly related to the vaccine.
  • Persistent flu that don't resolve a few days after vaccination
  • Chest pains, irregular heartbeat and tightness in the chest
  • Coughing up pink and frothy sputum
  • Noisy, difficult breathing, wheezing, irregular breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pale skin, blue lips and fingernails
  • Swelling in the extremities, e.g. feet, fingers or face
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Headache that won’t go away
  • Unusual body weakness and unexplained fatigue

So How Safe Is the Chicken Pox Vaccine?

Chicken pox vaccine side effects can be serious, and some cases life-threatening. But statistics have proven the safety record of the vaccine since its introduction. Prior to the introduction of the vaccine in the US, there were between 100-150 annual deaths and about 11000 hospitalizations linked to chickenpox virus. After the introduction of the vaccination, the death rate linked to chickenpox of children and adolescents fell by 97%. Before the vaccine was available for widespread use, it underwent many rigorous trials and studies which proved its safety and efficacy.

Some parents believe that is better for the child to contract the chickenpox virus and build a natural immunity to it. The risk in this case is that you cannot predict how the child’s immune system will respond to the virus. The child could get seriously ill and experience all the complications associated with the chickenpox virus.

Experts in the field of pediatrics believe the benefits of the vaccination far outweigh the potential for side effects.

How Is Chicken Pox Vaccine Given?

The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is a very small dose of the actual virus that has been "doctored" to elicit an immune response from your body. So when your body encounters this same virus in the future, it is able to fight off the infection.

Varivax is a commonly available brand of the vaccine. It is administered to your child first at 12-15 month of age. Thereafter a booster shot is given at 4-6 years of age. If your child is 13 years or older and has never received the vaccine, he may get the two shots at least one month apart. Missing the booster shot will mean that you are not fully protected from the virus. Your local health department will have their own specific guidelines which you should follow.

Who Should Avoid Getting Chicken Pox Vaccine?

To minimize chicken pox vaccine side effects, talk to your healthcare provider before you schedule a varicella vaccine if:

  • You have experienced an allergic reaction to the first dose.
  • You are moderately to severely ill (wait until you have recovered).
  • You are pregnant (the effects of the vaccine on the baby have not been tested).
  • You have an allergy to gelatin (there is a vaccine available that is gelatin free).
  • You have an allergy to the antibiotic neomycin.
  • You are an immune-compromised person.
  • You are receiving high doses of steroid treatment.
  • You are a cancer patient being treated with chemotherapy, medications, or x-ray therapy.
  • You are a person who has had blood products (e.g. immunoglobulin) or a transfusion in the previous 5 months.
  • You have untreated tuberculosis.
  • You have chronic breathing disorders like asthma, diabetes, anemia or kidney disease.
  • You have received a recent stem cell transplant.
  • You have a condition called thrombocytopenia (easy bleeding and bruising).

Further precautions to take:

  • After getting the vaccine, avoid pregnancy for at least 3 months.
  • Let your healthcare professional know if you are breastfeeding (it is not known if the vaccine passes into breast milk).
  • Do not give aspirin or similar products within 6 weeks of having the vaccination if your child is less than 18 years old due to the incidence of a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome.
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