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Children's Vaccines Health Center

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Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine


How Many Shots of the Chickenpox Vaccine Are Needed?

The varicella vaccine is given in two doses. A child should have the first shot at ages 12-18 months. The second shot should be given at ages 4-6 years. Older children and adults should have two shots, with four to eight weeks between the first and second shot.

Are There Side Effects Associated With the Chickenpox Vaccine?

All medicines have potential side effects. But the side effects associated with the varicella vaccine are generally mild. The most common are pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site. A small percentage of people develop a mild rash, usually around the spot where the shot was given. Severe side effects are very rare.

Are There People Who Should Not Get a Chickenpox Shot?

Anyone who is moderately to severely ill when a chickenpox shot is scheduled should wait until the illness passes before getting the shot. Also, anyone who had an allergic reaction to the first shot should not get the second shot.

Other people who should not get the shot include:

  • Pregnant women, because the vaccine's effect on the fetus is not known
  • Anyone allergic to gelatin; a gelatin-free version of the varicella vaccine is available.
  • Anyone allergic to neomycin
  • Anyone with an immune system disease
  • Anyone receiving high doses of steroids
  • Anyone being treated for cancer with X-rays, drugs, or chemotherapy
  • Anyone who had a transfusion or received blood products within five months prior to the shot


If the Virus in Chickenpox Vaccine Is Live, Can It Cause Chickenpox?

About 2% of the children who are vaccinated develop a very mild case of chickenpox, usually with no more than five to six blisters.

It is also possible for a person who has been vaccinated for chickenpox to develop chickenpox at some later point in life. When that happens, the disease is almost always milder and the recovery more rapid than for people who have not had the shots.

But it's important to keep in mind that up to 90% of the people who get the vaccine will not catch chickenpox.

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Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, FAAP on May 10, 2014

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