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Everything you need to know about the Varicella Vaccination

Almost every individual must have suffered from chickenpox at least once in their lifetime. The viral infection triggered by the Varicella-zoster virus (VZV) results in the appearance of red blisters which can be extremely itchy and uncomfortable. The viral infection, found to be more common among the children than the adults is highly contagious as well. 

Thus, it is important to get people, especially children immunized against chickenpox. In this regard, it is important to mention about the Chickenpox vaccine. As the name suggests, the Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine is an effective vaccine to safeguard and immunize the children and the adults from chickenpox. The vaccine is particularly important for infants and children where chickenpox may trigger serious complications (as their immune system is not very strong).

The chickenpox vaccine (also called the Varicella vaccine) is prepared using the attenuated live strains of the Varicella virus. The attenuation reduces the ability of the virus to cause an infection to a great extent. The idea behind using the viral strain in the vaccine is to raise the body's immunity against the infection. The vaccine when injected into the body triggers the immune system to produce antibodies against the virus. These antibodies go a long way to provide a strong resistance and protection from subsequent attack by the Varicella-zoster virus.

Ideally, all children below the age of 13 years, irrespective of whether they have suffered from the infection or not, should receive the vaccine. There are various campaigns and programs (Government sponsored) to raise awareness about the same. The dosage of the vaccine may vary depending on the age of the children (or the young adults and teenagers) to be vaccinated. In the US, there are two vaccines for chickenpox that are safe and licensed for use. These vaccines include

A single-antigen varicella vaccine called the Varivax®

A combination vaccine that includes immunization against the measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (MMRV) called the ProQuad®

i) For babies between 12 months to 12 years:

Children who fall under this age group are eligible for both the vaccinations. There are two doses of the vaccines recommended. However, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is better to administer the first dose of both the vaccines separately.

For the Varivax®, the first dose (~0.5 ml) is being injected subcutaneously when the child is between 12 -15 months old. The next dose, a booster (0.5 ml), is given anytime when the child is between 4-6 years of age. According to the CDC, one should maintain at least a three months gap between the first and the second dose of the single antigen varicella vaccine.

ii) Children and adults above 13 years of age:

The dosage of the single-antigen varicella vaccine is almost the same as those recommended for children below 12 years. A 4-8 weeks gap should be there between both the doses of the varicella vaccine (0.5ml each, injected subcutaneously).

The single antigen varicella vaccine comes with many advantages. There are seldom any serious side effects or complications associated with the vaccination. However, in some children and adults, there may be a pain (never severe though) and fever. There may also be a swelling or rashes (often mild) at the site of the injection. The associated side effects usually disappear within a day or two.

Are all people suitable for the single-antigen varicella vaccine?

The following situations and medical conditions make a person unsuitable for the chickenpox vaccine.

-People with leukemia, blood dyscrasias or those treated for cancer (including chemotherapy and radiations).

-Those who have recently undergone a blood transfusion (within five months from the scheduled date of vaccination).

-If a person is allergic to neomycin or the first dose of the vaccine triggered an allergic reaction.

-Pregnant women should refrain from the vaccination to avoid any complications in their pregnancies.

-People with immune disorders as well as those using steroids (including medications) should avoid the varicella vaccination.

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