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Surprising Long-Term Consequences of the Chicken Pox Vaccine
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Published: 16 years ago
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Surprising Long-Term Consequences of the Chicken Pox Vaccine

Reprinted with the permission of:
Bottom Line Daily Health News
Boardroom, Inc.
281 Tresser Blvd.
Stamford, CT 06901

BottomLine's Daily Health News:

Surprising Long-Term Consequences of the Chicken Pox Vaccine

At my daughter's annual physical, her pediatrician made an interesting observation about the chickenpox vaccine. Jeanne Marconi, MD, told me that there appears to be some fallout from the vaccine, which was licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995. She is seeing fewer cases of chickenpox (varicella), but the cases that do show up in her office tend to be far worse than they used to be in children. Instead of 100 or so lesions or blisters that used to develop during a typical case of chicken pox, there are now hundreds of blisters or lesions on unvaccinated children and adults who get this once fairly benign childhood disease.

These more severe cases of chicken pox can lead to potentially life-threatening complications such as pneumonia, warns Dr. Marconi. Her theory for the change -- acquired immunity, a passive immunity that we develop from being part of a general population in which viruses and bacteria exist, has decreased. This is in part due to antiseptic, germ-free environments and mass vaccination programs. Unvaccinated people are getting more severe chicken pox than they would have before the chickenpox vaccine started being widely used. This is because they are less likely to be continually exposed to the varicella zoster virus that causes chicken pox, says Dr. Marconi. Lacking exposure and reexposure, they don't have the opportunity to develop even low-level antibodies to chickenpox, she added.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) now recommends two-dose chickenpox vaccinations for children, taken three to five years apart for children under 13 and at least 12 weeks apart for those age 13 and above. All states require certain vaccines to attend school. However, depending upon the state, there are medical, religious and philosophical exemptions that parents may be able to obtain for their children to opt out of one or more vaccines. According to a 2002 CDC study, the "effectiveness of the vaccine was 44% against disease of any severity and 86% against moderate or severe disease." The remaining 15% failed to respond to the first chicken pox vaccination, leaving them susceptible to a mild case of the disease at some point.

However, there are lingering questions about the vaccine. Barbara Loe Fisher, president of the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), a national, non-profit, educational organization dedicated to the prevention of childhood vaccine injuries and deaths, has safety concerns about the vaccine, and believes that it should not have been mandated.

According to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), there were 67.5 adverse events per 100,000 doses of varicella vaccine reported between 1995 and 1998. In some cases, these were severe, including shock, encephalitis (brain inflammation), Guillain-Barre Syndrome, herpes zoster (shingles), cellulitis (serious bacterial skin infections) and death. From March 1995 to December 2001, according to VAERS, there were 15,180 reports of adverse events -- 759 of which were considered serious. While the CDC's position is that the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks for most people, Fisher points out that there are many questions about the true adverse event profile. In particular, the numbers of adverse events may be understated since events such as seizures and other signs of brain inflammation following vaccination are often dismissed as coincidental, she says. Additionally, chickenpox is generally mild in vaccinated children, and most children who have chickenpox develop lifelong immunity to it. The chicken pox vaccine, like all vaccines, gives only temporary immunity. This means that as adults, vaccinated individuals could still be vulnerable to chickenpox -- and in adults, chickenpox can be a far more serious disease. As Dr. Marconi has observed, while far fewer, the current cases of chicken pox that are occurring in the unvaccinated are far more severe and dangerous for some than they might have been if the vaccine had not been made mandatory in most states.

There is also concern that despite the drop in the incidence of chickenpox, there will be a corresponding rise in shingles, or herpes zoster. This acute viral infection -- characterized by numbness, burning and tingling on parts of the body -- causes a searingly painful, blistering rash. Shingles is most common in the elderly or adults over 50 and is caused by the same varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox. The theory is that adults receive natural, asymptomatic immune boosting against shingles by occasional contact with children who have chickenpox. Because shingles usually strikes decades after chickenpox, and the vaccine was only approved in 1995, it is not known how long the temporary immunity associated with the vaccine will last and if adults who were vaccinated when young will remain protected against shingles in the same way those who experienced chicken pox as children in past generations, were protected from both chicken pox and shingles as adults.


The NVIC recommends that you address the following eight questions before vaccination:

Is my child sick right now? If so, you may want to hold off on vaccination, since adverse effects can be more likely to occur in ill people and a coinciding viral or bacterial infection at the time of vaccination can affect the ability of the vaccine to stimulate even the temporary immunity.
Has my child had a bad reaction to a vaccination before? According to the CDC, people who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to chickenpox vaccine, neomycin or gelatin should not receive the chickenpox vaccine. The NVIC advocates caution if a child has previously had a bad reaction to any vaccination.
Does my child have a personal or family history of vaccine reactions... convulsions or neurological disorders... severe allergies... immune system disorders? According to the CDC, people should consult with their doctor about whether or not they should get the chickenpox vaccine if they have any kind of cancer or are receiving cancer treatment with X-rays or drugs... a disease that affects immune function... are receiving treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids (as in some cases for asthma, for example)... or have recently gotten blood products (or a transfusion). In addition, the NVIC advocates caution if a child has had a personal or family history of convulsions, neurological disorders, severe allergies or immune system disorders.
Do I know if my child is at high risk of reacting? NVIC urges caution if a child is sick at the time of vaccination, or has a personal or family history of vaccine reactions, convulsions or neurological disorders, severe allergies or immune system disorders. Discuss the risks versus benefits of vaccination with your physician.
Do I know how to identify a vaccine reaction? The most common reaction is soreness, redness or swelling at the shot site, which occurs 20% of the time... chicken pox lesions on the body within one to four weeks of vaccination... and fever over 102 degrees F. In the case of more serious reactions, such as a seizure or other signs of brain inflammation, seek immediate medical attention. Children should be monitored for at least four weeks following vaccination for signs of serious changes in physical, mental or emotional health and all symptoms of health deterioration reported to a doctor.
Do I know how to report a vaccine reaction? The federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) monitors adverse effects of vaccines. Ask your physician or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Report System form, or call 800-822-7967.
Do I know the vaccine manufacturer's name and lot number? Get this information from your physician at the time of vaccination.
Do I know I have a choice? Most states require the chickenpox vaccine for child care and school entry. However, there are possible medical, religious and philosophical exemptions depending upon the vaccine laws in your state. If you have concerns about vaccination, check with your state health department to learn more about them.
Thanks to the reduction in naturally acquired immunity to chickenpox because of mandatory vaccination policies, we are now between a rock and a hard place in deciding whether or not to vaccinate ourselves or our children. Should we get the vaccine and risk future wellness from vaccine side effects or increased risk of shingles? Should we skip the vaccine, and risk a potentially severe case of chicken pox? Should we get one dose of the vaccine but skip the booster?

So much for doing no harm and protecting the public health.

Reprinted with the permission of:
Bottom Line Daily Health News
Boardroom, Inc.
281 Tresser Blvd.
Stamford, CT 06901

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