There are two types of varicella vaccines:
- A chickenpox vaccine for vaccinating children, adolescents, and adults
- A shingles vaccine for vaccinating adults age 50 years and older
The live-virus varicella vaccine (Varivax) produces persistent immunity against chickenpox. The vaccine can prevent chickenpox or reduce the severity of the illness if it is used within 3 days, and possibly up to 5 days, after exposure to the infection.
The childhood chickenpox vaccine can also be given as part of a combination vaccine (Proquad) that combines measles, mumps, rubella (together called MMR), and varicella in one product. However, the CDC advises that combining varicella and MMR vaccinations into one shot doubles the risk for febrile (fever-related) seizures in children ages 12 - 24 months compared to giving separate MMR and varicella injections. Even with the combination vaccine the risk is low, but parents should consider the lower risk associated with separate injections.
The combination varicella and MMR vaccine is usually recommended for the second dose, in children ages 4 - 6 years, as it is not associated with increased risk for febrile seizures in this age group. However, children who are at higher risk for seizures due to a personal or family medical history should generally receive the MMR and varicella vaccines separately.
Recommendations for the Chickenpox Vaccine in Children
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that children receive TWO doses of the chickenpox vaccine with:
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.