Raise your hand if you would like to get sick, accompanied with a nice little spotty rash all over your body!? (If you did, then hold off on receiving the chickenpox vaccine). I am a middle-aged male and to be honest, I had no idea that there was a vaccine for Chickenpox until just a few years ago. It definitely makes me feel old to know that I was born over a decade before a vaccine was created, that is now routinely given throughout the United States and most of the well-developed countries in the world. My first thought is “What if it has long-term side effects”? I ask this because the long-term effects cannot possibly be known since the vaccine was invented less than 30 years ago. Well, I’m not the only person that worries about vaccine factors like these potential long-term side effects (and many others), which makes the Chickenpox vaccine, like many others, a strong topic for debate.
What is Chickenpox?
First and foremost, Chickenpox is the name for a virus called the Varicella zoster virus. This virus isn’t particularly dangerous like all viruses are in the movies, but it is quite contagious like seen in these doomsday films. The Chickenpox virus is an airborne disease and travels from host to host through coughing, sneezing, etc.
The Chickenpox virus usually only produces negative side effects one time in those that contract it. Multiple occurrences of the viral infection still manifest within the host, but side effects are not typically generated or felt after the initial infection. Those that are not immune to the virus, and that do not receive the Chickenpox virus, will typically experience a spotty, itchy rash throughout their body. A victim of Chickenpox may experience fatigue, headache, nausea, muscle aches, fever, and other symptoms while having Chickenpox. The chickenpox virus is typically contagious from 1 to 2 days before symptoms appear until up to 5 days after symptoms first appear. Symptoms are usually present for 3-7 days. Those that encounter chickenpox usually do not display noticeable symptoms for 10-21 days after exposure to the virus.
Chickenpox is usually contracted by children, but sometimes is not contracted until an adult. Adverse effects of the chickenpox virus are much more common, and dangerous, in adults than children. Infections tend to be much more severe if contracted as an adult. Further complications of the chickenpox virus tend to occur in adults too. Encephalitis, hepatitis, and pneumonia are examples of complications that may occur in some adults that contract chickenpox, and that did not receive the chickenpox vaccine.
Say Hello to the Chickenpox Vaccine
The first vaccine for chickenpox was created in 1995 by using live attenuated cells of the Orka/Merck strain of the virus. The cells were taken from embryonic lung cells of an unborn fetus, then altered and bred in the cells of guinea pigs, then introduced and propagated into human diploid cells.
Japan was the first country to introduce the chickenpox vaccine in 1988. With overwhelming initial success of the chickenpox vaccine, many countries including the United States followed their lead. The chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the United States in 1995, and is now a routine vaccine given to nearly all children. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that countries should not make the chickenpox vaccine a routine vaccination unless they’re confident that they can vaccinate at least 80 percent of their population going forward. The reason for this recommendation is that if only 20% – 80% of the population is vaccinated, it may lead to a rise of adults (that have not received the vaccine) contracting chickenpox and the overall threat of chickenpox-related illness could potentially rise. Due to this recommendation and the cost of the chickenpox vaccine, many countries have not followed suit in injecting their youth with the vaccine.
Is the Chickenpox Vaccine Bad?
Vaccines save lives, right? Well, not all the time, but pretty darn close. Vaccinations have been a huge topic of debate over the last few decades and conversations about the topic still remain heated between some. Over the years, there have been some vaccines that are thought to have caused some pretty awful side effects or adverse reactions in some patients. The FDA and drug companies are often accused of rushing vaccines (along with pretty much every drug) to the market without first conducting an appropriate amount of testing for safety, such as conducting the multi-year double blind placebo testing. Vaccines are not technically required to undergo this testing because they’re classified as Biologics instead of drugs. However, most drug companies state that the majority of vaccines undergo a significant amount of testing.
Another argument by those that oppose vaccines, like the Varicella zoster vaccine, is that they infringe on religious freedom rights. Some Christian groups think that the will of God is enough to keep children safe from viruses, for example. There are also groups and individuals that believe that the governments should not have the right to enforce that all children in public schools, and other institutions, receive vaccinations.
Finally, one of the other common arguments about vaccines (not necessarily the Chickenpox vaccine, but other vaccines) is that they may contain harmful ingredients. The bases of some vaccines contain formaldehyde, aluminum, thimerosal, and other potentially unsafe ingredients. Some scientists expect a link between thimerosal (an organic mercury) and autism. Formaldehyde is considered a dangerous carcinogen and too much aluminum built up in human bodies may cause neurological harm. However, most scientists state that there are too many other variables introduced during the years of vaccine discoveries that could have caused the increase in autism. They also state that vaccines with other harmful ingredients, such as formaldehyde and aluminum, only contain trace amounts of the substance and that children are exposed to higher levels on a daily basis.
There is some controversy that applies specifically to the chickenpox vaccine (the same concept applies to other vaccines, however). Unlike fungi or bacteria, a virus is unable to replicate on its own. A virus requires a host with cell lines developed over multiple generations. This is why some viral infections are more severe in some people than others – and why some people are not affected at all. Some individuals host the virus, but do not display any side effects (dormancy). The chickenpox vaccine was developed using WI-28 and MRC-5 embryonic lung cells developed by an unborn fetus nearly 35 years ago. Because Merck & Co. requires these cells to develop the vaccine, they have obtained some of these cells from aborted fetuses. Some pro-life supporters fear that this is unethical and refuse to use the chickenpox vaccine.
Chickenpox Vaccine Safety
The chickenpox vaccine is considered to be very safe in those with a normal, healthy immune system. During the years of 1998 to 2013, there has only been one single reported death caused by the chickenpox vaccine. The incident occurred in a young child with a pre-existing case of Leukemia.
Although very rare, some potentially serious side effects may occur such as meningitis, pneumonia, and anaphylaxis (allergic reaction). Minor side effects that may occur as a result of the chickenpox vaccine include rash, fever, as well as redness, soreness, and stiffness at the injection site. There is also a small chance that individuals receiving the chickenpox vaccine develop herpes zoster (shingles), but the chance of this occurring from the chickenpox vaccine is smaller than the chance of developing shingles from the actual chickenpox virus. There have been several reports of children contracting chickenpox from receiving the chickenpox vaccine, but all cases were said to have weakened immune function.
Chickenpox Vaccine Statistics
According to the CDC, there were approximately 4,000,000 people that contracted chickenpox each year. Of the 4 million that were infected, there were about 13,000 hospitalizations and 150 deaths caused by the virus. After the chickenpox vaccine was introduced in the United States, chickenpox occurrence quickly began to decline. In 2014, 91 percent of all children were given a dose of the Varicella vaccine.
Based on the CDC’s data report given in 2012, chickenpox cases in the United States declined by 79%. Outpatient visits declined by 84% in 2012 and hospitalizations decreased by 93%. Deaths related to chickenpox decreased by 87% between the years 2008 and 2011. It is estimated that the chickenpox vaccine prevents nearly 3.5 million people from getting infected with the chickenpox virus, and also prevents 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths per year.
Chickenpox Vaccine Summary
The data reporting statistics of the chickenpox vaccine are a clear indication that the vaccine is extremely efficient. The chickenpox virus was once a dreaded experience for both children and adults, but its existence is now rapidly fading away. Just like most products in the drug markets, as years pass and if no negative long-term side effects arise, as well as the discovery of new methods to produce the product at a cheaper cost, the chickenpox vaccine will likely become more available and practical for other countries to start using. As this happens, the world may become free of strong strains of the chickenpox virus.
There are many myths and propaganda about vaccines throughout the internet which has caused much concern for many contemplating receiving a chickenpox shot. While potentially harmful effects do exist, physicians are well aware of the statistics on vaccine adverse reactions. They are also aware of the percentage of vaccines that caused dangerous long-term effects (not many). With this knowledge of possible risks associated with vaccines, they are also aware of benefit statistics for the vaccines. So, I would strongly recommend trusting your physician and receiving the chickenpox vaccine if they recommend that you or your child should receive the chickenpox vaccine.