Today a Seattle mom advertised on an online parenting community that both of her children had chickenpox and then invited (non-vaccinated) children over for exposure. That’s the invite from 1:19pm today.
It turns out people are still having chickenpox parties.
Part of this makes my head spin. I just don’t get it, despite having had many families in my practice decline or hesitate or delay the chickenpox shot. I don’t think parents know what virus they are dealing with. After I posted this invitation on Twitter, I had physicians all over the country sharing stories (some included below).
Chickenpox can cause serious infection complications and rarely it can be lethal. Before the vaccine was approved and put into use in 1995, hundreds of children and adults died in this country every year from chickenpox and thousands were hospitalized. Although most young children get chickenpox and recover (only left with pox or scars) some children develop life-threatening secondary infections. Some children develop severe pneumonia (1 in 1000 children), some develop brain infections, and some children develop flesh-eating bacterial infections in their scabs that can even be fatal.
There is a safe, highly effective vaccine for chickenpox: Varicella Vaccine.
After I saw the pox party invite this afternoon I became slightly enraged. I mean, there are NUMEROUS children and adults in our community immunosuppressed and/or on chemo that could develop life-ending complications if exposed to varicella. And some families are intentionally exposing their children to a potentially harmful infection. After 2 doses of the chickenpox shot (varicella) 99% of patients are immune to chickenpox. Although some children can get chicken pox once vaccinated, they typically only have a few pox and do not develop severe side effects or die.
The pox party just shows me how much work we have to do to build trust in vaccines and vaccine-safety. My boys have both had 2 doses of the varicella vaccine. I’m thrilled they are protected and unlikely to ever get chickenpox or spread it to a community member who could be more at risk. They likely won’t get shingles, either.
Chickenpox Facts & Stats:
- Varicella shots hurt upon injection (children tell me it really stings). We give the shot twice, once at 1 year of age and once at 4 years of age. The shot can commonly cause arm soreness and lowgrade fever. In less than 5% of children, a small rash develops, often around the site of the shot. That’s a good sign the immune system is being triggered to fight off future infections. The rash that can develop after the shot is not contagious.
- Live chickenpox is super contagious. I love this stat from CHOP Vaccine Education Center: take 100 people, put them in a room with one infected person with chicken pox and let them talk for a couple hours. Over that time, 85 of the 99 people will get chickenpox.
- Children with chickenpox are contagious for a day or 2 before the pox appear. That means your child with a lowgrade fever and runny nose could go to school for a couple days, expose hundreds, and then present back at home as having chickenpox a couple days later when the pox develop.
- The varicella vaccine is a live-virus vaccine that induces protection in a similar way to vaccines against measles, mumps, and rubella. Therefore, because the vaccine creates copies (around 20) of the virus to stimulate immunity, our bodies respond like we’ve been infected; protection is likely to be lifelong. A study published today in Pediatrics found that after even 1 dose of the shot, immunity was long-lasting, “This study confirmed that varicella vaccine is effective at preventing chicken pox, with no waning noted over a 14-year period.” Ongoing surveillance of lifelong immunity in vaccinated children and adults will continue through our lifetimes.
- Shingles is a re-awakening of varicella infection (painful blisters that follow path of a nerve), often in those over age 45 years or those who have weakened immune systems. People who have had the varicella shot (versus the infection) are far less likely to get shingles.
- A teenager or adult who has never had chickenpox should get the vaccine.
- If your child is exposed to chicken pox, call your pediatrician and you can come in for the 1st or 2nd shot if they haven’t yet had them.
- Pregnant women who get varicella can pass on risks to unborn babies. One out of every 50 women who gets chickenpox during pregnancy will have a child with a birth defect.
Here’s what some other doctors had to say today when I posted the pox party invite: