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Your Child's Immunizations: Chickenpox Vaccine

What Is Chickenpox (Varicella)?

The varicella vaccine protects against chickenpox (varicella), a common and very contagious childhood viral illness.

Chickenpox Immunization Schedule

The varicella vaccine is given by injection when kids are between 12 and 15 months old. They receive a booster shot for further protection at 4 to 6 years of age.

Kids who are older than 6 but younger than 13 who have not had chickenpox also may receive the vaccine, with the two doses given at least 3 months apart.

Kids 13 years or older who have not had either chickenpox or the vaccine need two vaccine doses at least 1 month apart.

Why Is the Chickenpox Vaccine Recommended?

The chickenpox vaccine prevents severe illness in almost all kids who are immunized. It's up to 85% effective in preventing mild illness. Vaccinated kids who do get chickenpox generally have a mild case.

Possible Risks of Chickenpox Immunization

Possible mild effects are tenderness and redness where the shot was given, fever, tiredness, and a varicella-like illness. There is a very small chance of an allergic reaction with any vaccine.

A rash can happen up to 1 month after the injection. It may last for several days but will disappear on its own without treatment. There is a very small risk of febrile seizures after vaccination.

When to Delay or Avoid Chickenpox Immunization

The varicella vaccine is not recommended if:

  • your child is currently sick, although simple colds or other minor illnesses should not prevent immunization
  • your child has had an allergic reaction to gelatin or to the antibiotic neomycin that required medical treatment

Talk to your doctor about whether being vaccinated is a good idea if your child:

Your doctor may decide that the benefits of vaccinating your child outweigh the potential risks.

Pregnant women should not receive the chickenpox vaccine until after childbirth.

Caring for Your Child After Chickenpox Immunization

Check with your doctor to see if you can give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain or fever and to find out the appropriate dose.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if:

  • you aren't sure if the vaccine should be postponed or avoided
  • there are problems after the immunization
Date reviewed: March 2018