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Chickenpox Vaccine Drastically Cuts Hospitalizations

More Than 50,000 Hospitalizations Prevented From 2000 to 2006; Additional Declines Are Expected
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 3, 2011 -- The chickenpox vaccine prevented more than 50,000 hospitalizations from 2000 to 2006, according to new data published in the February issue of Pediatrics.

This time frame is known as the one-dose chickenpox (varicella) vaccination era. In 2006, however, the CDC began recommending two doses of the vaccine.

“It is expected that the implementation of this recommendation will lead to additional declines in varicella incidence and hospitalization rates,” conclude study researchers led by Adriana S. Lopez, MHS, of the CDC, in Atlanta.

Before the vaccine was first licensed by the FDA in 1995, there were 11,000 people hospitalized with chickenpox each year and 100 people died as a result of the disease, according to the CDC.

Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC recommend that children who have never had chickenpox receive their first dose of the chickenpox vaccine at 12-15 months and their second at 4-6 years. Those aged 13 and older who have not had chickenpox or received the vaccine should receive the two doses at least 28 days apart. A combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (MMRV) vaccine was also licensed in 2005.

Chickenpox Hospitalizations Reduced by 71%

Researchers analyzed data from the National Hospital Discharge Surgery and Nationwide Inpatient Sample from 1988 to 2006. Rates of hospitalization from chickenpox decreased by 71% during this time period. This translates into about 50,000 fewer hospitalizations from chickenpox during the one-dose vaccine era.

The sharpest decrease was seen in children younger than 10, the study showed.

Hospitalization rates remained highest among children younger than 4, but even these numbers were 72% lower than they were during the pre-vaccination era of 1988 to 1995.

There had been some concern that vaccinating children may leave adults who had never had chickenpox vulnerable to more severe infections. This has not been borne out, the new study shows.

Owing to herd immunity, chickenpox-related hospitalizations did not increase in people 20 and older once varicella vaccination had been implemented. Herd immunity refers to vaccinating the eligible masses to keep infections out of circulation; thereby protecting those who can’t get vaccinated, such as people with certain types of cancer.

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