Chickenpox is a common childhood illness caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It usually results in a mild fever and a rash of itchy red spots all over the body. Most children recover from chickenpox without any significant health problems. However, the virus can cause more serious complications in some cases, such as pneumonia or encephalitis.
The chickenpox vaccine was first introduced in 1995 and has since become a standard part of childhood immunization programs in many countries around the world. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history of the chickenpox vaccine, how it works, and some of the controversies surrounding it.
The History of the Chickenpox Vaccine
The first vaccine against chickenpox was created by a Japanese researcher named Michiaki Takahashi in the 1970s. Dr. Takahashi was working with a weakened strain of the varicella-zoster virus that he had isolated from a child with chickenpox. He found that when this weakened virus was introduced into the body, it could stimulate an immune response without causing illness.
The vaccine was first used in Japan in 1984 and quickly became popular in other countries as well. However, it took several more years of testing and development before the vaccine was approved for use in the United States.
The Development of the Varivax Vaccine
In 1984, the American pharmaceutical company Merck began working on a chickenpox vaccine of their own. They called their vaccine Varivax and it was first licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995.
Varivax is a live attenuated vaccine, meaning it uses a weakened form of the virus to stimulate the immune system. The vaccine is given in two doses, usually between the ages of 12 and 15 months and then again between 4 and 6 years old.
How the Chickenpox Vaccine Works
The chickenpox vaccine works by introducing a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus into the body. This allows the immune system to recognize the virus and produce antibodies to fight it off. If the vaccinated person is exposed to the virus later in life, their immune system will be better equipped to fight off the infection.
The vaccine is not 100% effective, but it does significantly reduce the likelihood of getting chickenpox. It is estimated to be about 90% effective after two doses.
Side Effects of the Chickenpox Vaccine
Most people who receive the chickenpox vaccine will not experience any serious side effects. However, some people may experience mild side effects such as redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, a person may experience a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine.
There have also been some concerns that the chickenpox vaccine may increase the risk of developing shingles later in life. Shingles is a painful rash caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in a person who has previously had chickenpox. However, studies have not found a consistent link between the chickenpox vaccine and an increased risk of shingles.
Controversies Surrounding the Chickenpox Vaccine
The chickenpox vaccine has been the subject of some controversy over the years. One of the main concerns has been whether or not the vaccine is necessary, since chickenpox is usually a mild illness in healthy children.
The Case Against Universal Vaccination
Some people argue that the vaccine is not necessary because most healthy children will recover from chickenpox without any significant health problems. They believe that the vaccine is being overused and that the risks associated with vaccination may outweigh the benefits.
However, proponents of the vaccine argue that even a mild case of chickenpox can lead to more serious complications in some cases. They also point out that the vaccine is especially important for people with weakened immune systems, who are more likely to experience serious complications if they contract the virus.
The Connection Between Autism and Vaccines
Another controversy surrounding the chickenpox vaccine (as well as other vaccines) is the belief that they may cause autism. This idea came about due to a now-discredited study that was published in 1998, which claimed to find a link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Despite numerous studies since then that have debunked the link between vaccines and autism, some people still believe that vaccines are to blame for the rise in autism diagnoses over the last few decades.
The chickenpox vaccine has been around for over 25 years and has become a standard part of childhood immunization programs in many countries. Although there have been some controversies surrounding the vaccine, most experts agree that it is safe and effective in preventing the spread of the varicella-zoster virus. If you have any concerns about the chickenpox vaccine, it’s best to discuss them with your doctor.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Chickenpox (Varicella). https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html
- Merck. (2019). Varivax. https://www.merck.com/product/usa/pi_circulars/v/varivax/varivax_pi.pdf
- NHS. (2019). Chickenpox vaccine. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/chickenpox-vaccine/
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q: When was the chickenpox vaccine invented?
- Q: How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?
- Q: What are the side effects of the chickenpox vaccine?
- Q: Are there any controversies surrounding the chickenpox vaccine?
A: The first chickenpox vaccine was developed in Japan in the 1970s. The American pharmaceutical company Merck developed their own vaccine, Varivax, in 1984. Varivax was first licensed by the FDA in 1995.
A: The vaccine is estimated to be about 90% effective after two doses.
A: Most people who receive the vaccine will not experience any serious side effects. However, some people may experience mild side effects such as redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site. In rare cases, a person may experience a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine.
A: Yes, some people argue that the vaccine is not necessary since chickenpox is usually a mild illness in healthy children. There have also been concerns that the vaccine may increase the risk of developing shingles later in life, although studies have not found a consistent link between the vaccine and shingles. Additionally, some people believe that vaccines (including the chickenpox vaccine) may be linked to autism, although numerous studies have debunked this idea.