The varicella vaccine confers protection against chickenpox infection. In Malaysia, it is an additional recommended vaccine and is available at private hospitals and clinics. The varicella vaccine is recommended for children in a 2 dose series: first at 12 months of age, and the second dose 8 weeks after. Both doses are required for optimum protection against chickenpox infection.
It can be given in combination with other routine childhood immunisations such as the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine also given at 12 months of age. Parents can opt for their children to receive 4-in-1 MRRV (MMR + varicella) vaccine. It can prevent these four diseases in a single dose. This also minimises any pain or discomfort from receiving multiple vaccinations. Even if your child does get chickenpox, the illness will be much milder if they are immunised.
Gaining natural immunity against chickenpox is a common household practice. Parents willingly take their children to chickenpox parties so that they can get chickenpox from an infected child. Your child would have to go through a whole lot of discomfort, misery and not to mention hundreds of red blisters in order to gain natural immunity against chickenpox. Also, chickenpox infection can carry with it potentially life-threatening consequences.
On the other hand, the majority of individuals who get their varicella vaccination will experience minor pain at the injection site. Other common reactions to the vaccine include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccination was given. Some individuals may develop a mild fever and a rash, which looks like chickenpox but with fewer spots, about 2 weeks after the vaccination.
The varicella vaccine is recommended for everyone but the following are considered high priority:
1. Children under 13 years old.
2. Individuals above 13 years who have never had chickenpox or received their chickenpox vaccine:
- Those who had chickenpox before their 1st birthday may not have devealoped a lasting immunity and are susceptible to being re-infected with varicella-zoster at a later age
- Childcare workers
- Women planning on pregnancy
- Adolescents and adults living with young children
3. Individuals with the following conditions are recommended to speak with their doctor about whether they should receive the varicella vaccination, including individuals who:
- Has HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
- Is being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer
- Has any kind of cancer
- Is getting cancer treatment with radiation or drugs
Therefore, the varicella vaccine is much safer than getting the illness. Immunisation is the best way to protect your child against chickenpox, the discomfort and its potential complications. So please, vaccinate your family against chickenpox. Please don’t send your children to a chickenpox party. You will save your family weeks of needless misery. Your children will not have to miss school or even worse, exams!
Planning For Pregnancy, Plan For Your Varicella Immunisation
All pregnant women or women planning on pregnancy are recommended to speak with their healthcare practitioner to determine if they are protected against chickenpox.
If immunity is not present, varicella immunisation is the best way to protect against chickenpox. However, pregnant women are not eligible to receive the vaccination. They can plan to get their varicella immunisation after delivery to protect themselves, their children and prepare for their next pregnancy. The first dose can be administered just before leaving the hospital with the second dose at 6-8 weeks post-partum. The vaccine has been shown to be safe for mothers who are nursing.
On the other hand, women planning on getting pregnant can receive their varicella immunsation. But they must plan to receive it well before getting pregnant. The CDC recommends getting the varicella immunisation at least one to three months before conceiving. Women are not recommended to receive their varicella immunisation 30 days before becoming pregnant.
Asking about your chickenpox immunity should be an integral part of your family planning process. The protection is twofold: for you and your little bundle of wonder. But remember to start planning well in excess of 30 days before getting pregnant.