Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Why do you need a vaccine for chicken pox?

Hi everyone! I'm here today to do a quick post on a question I've been hearing a lot lately:

 "I understand why we need a polio and smallpox vaccine, but why are we bothering with a chicken pox vaccine? I got the chicken pox when I was a kid and I was just fine! It's so mild they used to have chicken pox parties!  It's just big pharma making up vaccines that we don't need to take our money"

There are a couple points in this question that I'd like to clear up. 

Chicken pox is not always mild

Prior to the chicken pox vaccine 4 million people were infected each year, resulting in over 10,000 hopsitalizations, and 100-150 deaths (cdc.gov).  That means that over 10,000 cases of the chicken pox were serious- complications from chicken pox range from infection of the blood, bone and skin to pneumonia to encephalitis.  In 1995 the chicken pox vaccine was introduced and the cases of chicken pox hospitalizations and deaths decreased 90% (cdc.gov).  Perfectly normal babies and children can go from 100% healthy one day to hospitalized with a life threatening infection the next day.  I reccomend reading this story of a perfectly healthy 13 month old child who spent 7 days in the hospital battling the chicken pox because she wasn't vaccinated yet.  There's no way to predict whether your child will have a mild or a serious case of chicken pox- so don't play with fire in the first place.

In addition, if your child gets the chicken pox they can pass it on to those who are unable to be vaccinated, like immune compromised or elderly people.  While you might think the chicken pox is mild to your child it is most certainly not mild to an immune compromised cancer patient or an elderly man with pneumonia or a newborn child.  Therefore preventing the disease in the first place is the most fail safe way to keep the other groups of people safe, after all, it's not their fault they can't get the vaccine themselves.

Big Pharma saves lives

I know it's super hip to hate big pharma at the moment so very few people are going to agree with me on this one, but I'll say it anyways.  Big pharma isn't out to get you.  The creator of the chicken pox vaccine was a virologist who was so moved by watching his daughter suffer from the chicken pox that he decided to create a vaccine against it.  As I mentioned above, chicken pox can be deadly and have serious consequences so it's really not quite so unreasonable for a pharmaceutical company to create a vaccine for it.

On to the money aspect.  If you have health insurance (and you probably do) you're not paying much out of pocket for this vaccine, I bet the max co-pay most people ever pay is $40.  I looked up the price to buy the vaccine outright and it's only $94, so it's quite reasonably priced.  Do you know how much a 3 day long hospital stay costs?  When Charlie was there for 3 days and 2 nights back in March the bill was $22,000.  Spending $94 to ensure you won't be spending tens of thousands of dollars later due to chicken pox complications makes a lot of sense to me.  So is big pharma really taking all your money? Because it seems to me that vaccines actually save you A LOT of money.  Try thinking about your vaccinations as an insurance policy.  Sure, insurance policies cost money for something that only MIGHT happen (like a car crash or a house fire) but you still need the protection having insurance offers you, even if you may never use it. 

Chicken pox parties are basically an unsafe and unreliable form of vaccination

The idea of the chicken pox party I suppose worked back when there wasn't vaccination because what you're doing is basically trying to control "vaccinating" your child against the chicken pox by exposing them.  You control the timing of the first exposure to the chicken pox virus and then they're effectively immunized against it- somewhat similar to a vaccine.  Of course now that there are vaccines, why would you do this?  The vaccine is predictable and safety is guaranteed.  Bringing your child around some random kid with chicken pox (and who knows how virulent of a strain it might be?) is a completely risky and unreliable way to prevent getting the chicken pox in the future.  The vaccine is considerably safer than purposely exposing your child to the live, virulent strain of varicella. 

Some people might tell you that naturally contracting the disease confers better immunity.  The current chicken pox vaccines available are 98% effective at preventing the disease, which is a pretty darn good statistic in my book.  The 2% left that still contract chicken pox have a milder form of the virus and easier recovery.  Seems like a no brainer to me.

Why risk your child's comfort and health?

This is the one that completely baffles me.  Most children with the chicken pox recover in one week (cdc.gov) but why let them be sick for 7 whole days at all if it's preventable?  Being sick is the worst, especially when you're a kid- why inflict unnecessary illness on your child? Being sick with the chicken pox is 98% preventable (and 2% of cases are less mild with the vaccine) so the fact that people are choosing illness over a safe and quick vaccine is mind boggling to me. Compare the side effects of the vaccine to the side effects of chicken pox and I'll choose the vaccine any day.

The second point here is that your child's health is a gift.  When you don't vaccinate for a preventable illness (like chicken pox or the flu, etc) you aren't protecting that gift.  Vaccination is a way to protect your child's good health and keep it that way.  If you're a parent of a child with a chronic health condition, like myself, you know how lucky those parents with healthy children are.  Therefore seeing parents refuse to vaccinate their healthy children looks an awful lot like throwing their precious good luck down the toilet.  So don't be like them, protect your good luck and your healthy child and vaccinate them!  Not only will it keep your child safe it will protect your community, too!


  1. I found you through the Blissful and Domestic blog. I just wanted to say how much I appreciate this post. I have a sister in law who is incredibly anti-vaccination. She's a nurse, so she should know better. Her kids also had this way of always getting sick with a vaccine-preventable disease just a smidgeon before my kids are old enough to receive the vaccine. Several years ago, it was chicken pox - at Christmas time, two weeks before we were due to fly overseas to introduce our baby to my family. And of course chicken pox has a 2-3 week period before it's infectious; which means our baby (who was too young for the vaccine) would've been getting sick just as we were about to step on to the plane. Even though the doctors told her not to travel (8 hours round-trip in a car with three sick kids) because they were highly contagious, she still insisted. (This family is Muslim, btw, so they don't even celebrate Christmas - everyone else in my husband's family does, but their idea of celebrating Christmas is to make their young kids watch while all their cousins get to open presents, because they have this rule that their kids aren't allowed to get Christmas presents; so it's already a pretty miserable day.) Yay. So in the end I looked like the bad guy because I put my foot down and told my mother in law there was no way I was going to expose our baby to chicken pox. She told me I'd just ruined Christmas for everyone. I still won't talk to my SIL. All this strife, all because she refused a perfectly safe vaccine, and then refused to listen to the doctor who told her not to travel. Argh. My kids are completely up to date with all their vaccines - we travel to third-world countries about once a year, so I make sure not to take any chances. In my opinion vaccines are right up there with toilets and refrigeration in the Top 5 Wonderful Inventions category. LOVE them!!!

    1. Wow amazing story! I don't blame you for being wary about exposure to children with the chicken pox- you just never know what might happen! It's so unfortunate that those children had to even be sick in the first place :( I know what you mean about causing rifts in the family, I have a sister-in-law and niece-in-law that aren't talking to my family because of their strongly held anti-flu vaccine beliefs. It's so frustrating because I actually have experience in Virology but they refuse to listen! I couldn't agree more with the Top 5 Wonderful Inventions-- glad to see another parent that understands the importance of vaccines :D

  2. Right before the vaccine became available, my daughter got terribly sick with chicken pox. Her big sister brought it home from kindergarten, had about 273 pox, and was mildly ill. #2 had thousands of pox. They came up in the webbing between fingers and toes, on the rims of her eyelids, down her throat, ears and nose, and vaginally, There was no space the size of a thumbprint that did not have the things. She ran a high fever and bounced off the walls crying because the ones on her eyes made it hard for her to see. I was 8 1/2 months pregnant and kept praying that the virus would leave our house before the baby arrived. You can bet your soul I got the vaccine for #3 and #4 as soon as it became available. I still have nightmares of that "mild childhood illness". It really worries me that so many educated people are blowing off vaccines. Has there been such a long span of safety that they cannot imagine the risks they are blithely taking? Like an assumption that all water is potable? I bet if there was a vaccine for Ebola they would be lining up demanding it, but the risk of contacting is so minimal here in America, even with the two medical people getting treatment. What is wrong with us?

    1. Oh my goodness, that sounds incredibly awful! For your whole family and your daughter- WOW! And from what it sounds like she wasn't even hospitalized and she was still so incredibly sick- which the hospitalization stats don't capture. I'm so glad you took the time to share your families story, hopefully it'll make someone think twice about the vaccine!!


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