Chickenpox Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know
Infographic: Chickenpox Vaccine Saves Lives Infographic
At a Glance
Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes an itchy, blister-like rash. The rash appears first on the chest, back, and face, and then spreads over the entire body.
Chickenpox used to be very common in the United States. In the early 1990s, more than 4 million people got chickenpox, 10,500 to 13,000 were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died each year. Chickenpox vaccine became available in the United States in 1995. During the first 25 years of the U.S. chickenpox vaccination program, the vaccine has prevented an estimated 91 million cases, 238,000 hospitalizations, and 2,000 deaths.
CDC recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents, and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.
Children under age 13 years should get two doses:
- First dose at age 12 through 15 months.
- Second dose at age 4 through 6 years.
The second dose may be given at an earlier age if it is given at least 3 months after the first dose.
People 13 years of age and older who have never had chickenpox or received chickenpox vaccine should get two doses, at least 28 days apart. Chickenpox vaccination is especially important for:
- Healthcare professionals
- People who care for or are around other people whose body is less able to fight germs and sickness (weakened immune system)
- Childcare workers
- Residents and staff in nursing homes and other residential settings
- College students
- Inmates and staff of correctional institutions
- Military personnel
- Non-pregnant women of child-bearing age
- Adolescents and adults living with children
- International travelers
To check if you are protected from chickenpox, see Assessing Immunity to Varicella.
Some people with a weakened immune system who do not have immunity against chickenpox may be considered for vaccination after talking with their doctor, including:
- People with HIV infection
- People with cancer, but whose disease is in remission
- People on low dose steroids
You do not need to get the chickenpox vaccine if you have evidence of immunity against the disease.
Some people should not get chickenpox vaccine or they should wait.
- People should check with their doctor about whether they should get chickenpox vaccine if they:
- Have HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system.
- Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids, for 2 weeks or longer.
- Have any kind of cancer.
- Are getting cancer treatment with radiation or drugs.
- Recently had a transfusion or were given other blood products.
There are two chickenpox vaccines that are licensed in the United States—Varivax® and ProQuad®.
- Contains only chickenpox vaccine.
- Is licensed for use in people 12 months of age or older.
- Can be given to children for their routine two doses of chickenpox vaccine at 12 through 15 months old and age 4 through 6 years old.
- Contains a combination of measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines, which is also called MMRV.
- Is only licensed for use in children 12 months through 12 years of age.
Getting vaccinated after you are exposed to someone with chickenpox can:
- Prevent the disease or make it less serious.
- Protect you from chickenpox if you are exposed again in the future.
A healthcare provider can prescribe a medicine to make chickenpox less severe if you:
- Are exposed to chickenpox.
- Do not have immunity against the disease.
- Are not eligible for vaccination.
For more information, see Managing People at High Risk for Severe Varicella.
Also, see information about Who Should Not Get Chickenpox Vaccine.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia (DC) have state laws that require children entering childcare or public schools to have certain vaccinations. There is no federal law that requires this.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that all states require children entering childcare and students starting school, college, and other postsecondary educational institutions to have:
- Age-appropriate chickenpox vaccination.
- For preschool-age children (age 12 months through 3 years): one dose
- For school-age children, adolescents, adults: two doses
- Or other evidence of immunity against chickenpox.
Students in school settings have a higher likelihood of spreading chickenpox because they are constantly in close contact with each other.
Chickenpox vaccine prevents the disease and outbreaks in childcare settings and schools. This leads to:
- Less illness and less school time missed by students.
- Less chance of exposing people who cannot get vaccinated.
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of vaccines. However, you may want to check with your insurance provider before going to the doctor. If you don’t have health insurance or if your insurance does not cover vaccines for your child, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) Program may be able to help. This program helps families of eligible children who might not otherwise have access to vaccines. To find out if your child is eligible, visit the VFC website or ask your child’s doctor. You can also contact your state VFC coordinator.
- CDC Chickenpox Disease Website
- Chickenpox Information for Parents
- Chickenpox: Questions and Answers, Immunization Action Coalition
- Chickenpox Vaccine Information Statement
- Combined Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella Vaccine Information Statement
- Varicella (Chickenpox) – Preventive Measures for Travelers