Varicella Vaccine Recommendations

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that healthy people who do not have evidence of immunity to varicella should get vaccinated against this disease.

For more information, see the ACIP recommendations for varicella vaccination.

Varicella Vaccination

Routine 2-dose vaccination

  • First dose at age 12 through 15 months
  • Second dose at age 4 through 6 years

Second dose catch-up vaccination

  • If the second dose is administered after the 7th birthday, the minimum interval between doses is ≥3 months for children age <13 years and 4 weeks for persons age ≥13 years

Adolescents and Adults (≥ age 13 years) without other evidence of immunity

  • Give 2 doses 4 to 8 weeks apart
  • If it has been more than 8 weeks since the first dose, the second dose may be given without restarting the schedule

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Contraindications for Varicella Vaccination

People with contraindications for varicella vaccine should not receive varicella vaccine, including anyone who:

  • has a history of anaphylactic/anaphylactoid reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or any other component of the vaccine
  • has blood dyscrasias, leukemia, lymphomas, or malignant neoplasms affecting bone marrow or the lymphatic system
  • has a primary or acquired immunodeficiency, including persons with immunosuppres­sion associated with cellular immunodeficiencies and AIDS or severe immunosuppression associated with HIV infection
  • is receiving prolonged, high-dose systemic immunosuppressive therapy (≥2 weeks), including large doses of oral steroids (≥2mg/kg of body weight or a total of 20mg/day of prednisone or its equivalent for people who weigh >10kg) or other immunosuppressive therapy
  • has a moderate or severe concurrent illness (see Precautions for Varicella Vaccination)
  • has received blood products (such as whole blood, plasma, or immune globulin) during the previous 3 to 11 months, depending on dosage (see Precautions for Varicella Vaccination)
  • has a family history (first degree relatives) of congenital hereditary immunodeficiency, unless the person has been determined to be immunocompetent
  • is or may be pregnant. For more information, see Guidelines for Vaccinating Pregnant Women: Varicella and Varicella Vaccination Recommendations for Specific Groups

In addition, MMRV vaccine is contraindicated for people with impaired humoral immunity (hypogam­maglobulinemia, dysgammaglobulinemia) and HIV infection.

Some people with contraindications for varicella vaccine may receive varicella zoster immune globulin after being exposed to varicella. For more information, see Managing People at Risk for Severe Varicella.

Precautions for Varicella Vaccination

People with Acute Illness

  • People with acute severe illness, including untreated, active tuberculosis, should postpone vaccination until they recover. The decision to delay vaccination depends on the severity of symptoms and the etiology of disease.

People with Thrombocytopenia

Recipients of Blood Products

  • People who have recently received (within 3 to 11 months depending on dosage) blood, plasma, or immune globulin products should not be vaccinated.Blood, including whole blood, packed red blood cells, and plasma, and other antibody-containing blood products may interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine.
  • People who have received varicella vaccine should not receive blood products for 14 days after being vaccinated unless the benefits of blood product outweigh the need for protection from vaccination.

People Receiving Salicylates

  • People should avoid using salicylates for 6 weeks after getting varicella vaccine. This is because of the association between aspirin use and Reye syndrome following varicella, and also the potential risk of Reye syndrome if a person is given aspirin after varicella vaccination.
  • Take caution when vaccinating children who are receiving salicylates. However, no adverse events have been reported.
  • Children with rheumatoid arthritis or other conditions that require therapeutic aspirin should be monitored closely after they get vaccinated.

For more information, see Chart of Contraindications and Precautions for varicella vaccination.

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Varicella Vaccination Recommendations for Specific Groups

Varicella vaccine is recommended for vaccinating people in the following groups who do not have evidence of immunity against varicella:

HIV-infected People

  • HIV-infected children ≥12 months old with CD4+ T-lymphocyte percentages ≥15%
  • HIV-infected people >8 years old with CD4+ T-lymphocyte counts ≥200 cells/µL
    • There is a lack of data on the use of varicella vaccine in HIV-infected adolescents and adults. The immunogenicity may be lower in these groups compared to children 1 to 8 years old. The benefits of varicella vaccination may outweigh the risk of severe disease from wild-type varicella infection. Therefore, vaccination may be considered in these groups.
    • If vaccination of HIV-infected person results in clinical disease, acyclovir may be used to help prevent severe disease.

HIV-infected people eligible for vaccination should get 2 doses of single-antigen varicella vaccine (Varivax®) separated by 3 months.

HIV-infected children, adolescents, or adults should not get the combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine (ProQuad®).

People Who May Have Some Degree of Immunodeficiency

  • People with impaired humoral immunity
  • People receiving systemic steroids for certain conditions, such as asthma, and who are receiving steroids <2 mg/kg of body weight or total of <20 mg/day of prednisone or its equivalent and are not otherwise immunocompromised
    • There is a lack of data on whether people who use inhaled, nasal, or topical steroids can be vaccinated safely. However, based on clinical experience, these people can generally tolerate vaccination well.
    • Some experts suggest withholding steroids for 2 to 3 weeks after vaccination if that can be done safely.
  • People receiving high doses of systemic steroids (≥2 mg/kg/day or ≥20 mg/day prednisone or its equivalent, for ≥2 weeks) if steroid therapy has been discontinued for ≥1 month
  • People with leukemia, lymphoma, or other malignancies that are in remission and who have not received chemotherapy for ≥3 months
    • Children with leukemia that is in remission and who do not have evidence of immunity to varicella should only be vaccinated with expert guidance and access to antiviral therapy in case complications occur.

People who may have some degree of immunodeficiency should not get the combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine (ProQuad®).

Household Contacts of Immunocompromised People

  • Healthy people who get vaccinated against varicella can protect immunocompromised people from being exposed to the disease
  • If the vaccinated person develops a vaccine-related rash, they should stay away from immunocompromised people who do not have evidence of immunity against varicella until all lesions resolve or no new lesions appear within a period of 24 hours

Postpartum and Nursing Mothers without Evidence of Immunity

A woman who is or may be pregnant should not receive varicella vaccination. For more information, see Guidelines for Vaccinating Pregnant Women: Varicella and Varicella Vaccination Recommendations for Specific Groups

Postpartum mothers should get 2 doses of varicella vaccine after their pregnancy

  • The first dose should be given after delivery and before they are discharged from the medical facility. A second dose should be given at 4 to 8 weeks after the first dose. This dose can be given during the postpartum visit (6 to 8 weeks after delivery).
  • There is no need to delay postpartum vaccination because of breastfeeding.
  • Women who get varicella vaccine may continue to breastfeed.

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Varicella Vaccination Recommendations for Healthcare Personnel

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), with support from the Hospital Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), recommends that healthcare institutions ensure that all healthcare personnel have evidence of immunity against varicella. Those without evidence of immunity should receive 2 doses of varicella vaccine 4 to 8 weeks apart or, if previously received 1 dose, the second dose at least 4 weeks after the first dose.

For more information, see:

Testing for Immunity

Healthcare personnel without evidence of immunity against varicella may get serologic screening before being vaccinated. This is likely to be cost effective since 70% to 90% of adults who do not remember having varicella actually have antibodies in their blood.

ACIP or HICPAC do not recommend that healthcare personnel get tested for immunity to varicella after 2 doses of vaccine. Commercial assays are not sensitive enough to always detect antibodies after vaccination.  Documented receipt of 2 doses of varicella vaccine supersedes results of subsequent serologic testing.

Transmission of Vaccine Virus

It is rare for vaccinated people to spread varicella vaccine virus, especially if they do not have rash. Wordlwide, since the varicella vaccine programs started, only 11 healthy vaccinated people (6 with varicella-like rash and 5 with herpes zoster postvaccination) have been documented as spreading vaccine virus to others. All of these vaccinated people had rash after vaccination. As a result, 13 people, including household members and people in long-term care facilities, got infected with vaccine virus varicella. One additional case had a mechanism other than direct transmission from a vaccine recipient, possibly exposure to vaccine aerosol during preparation of the vaccine for administration.

There has not been any documented transmission of varicella from vaccinated healthcare personnel.

Work Restrictions

Recently vaccinated healthcare personnel do not require any restriction in their work activities. However, healthcare personnel who develop varicella-like rash after vaccination should stay away from people who do not have evidence of immunity and who are at risk for severe varicella. They should wait until all lesions resolve (crusted over). If they develop lesions that do not crust (macules and papules only), they should wait until no new lesions appear within a 24 hour period.

Post-exposure Varicella Vaccination

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends that after being exposed to varicella or herpes zoster, people who do not have evidence of immunity and are eligible for vaccination should get varicella vaccine.

  • Ideally, the vaccine should be given within 3 to 5 days after the person is exposed. This may prevent varicella or make it less severe.
  • Even if it has been more than 5 days, the vaccine should still be offered. This will provide protection against varicella if a person is exposed again in the future.

People who previously got the first dose should get a second dose at the appropriate time interval.  For more information, see About the Varicella Vaccines.

There are no data available on the use of the combination measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella vaccine (ProQuad®) for post-exposure vaccination.

Varicella vaccination is recommended for controlling outbreaks. People who do not have evidence of immunity should get a first or second dose as needed. For information about chickenpox (varicella) outbreaks, see Outbreak Identification, Investigation, and Control.

See Managing People at Risk of Severe Varicella for information on prevention and treatment options for people at risk of severe varicella who cannot get vaccinated.

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Page last reviewed: August 7, 2019