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!