Know your risks of contracting chickenpox, or varicella, Vaccine Injury Help Center.
Can you get chickenpox after the vaccine? The short answer to this question is yes. According to a Missouri Health and Senior Services fact sheet, up to 1 in 5 people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox contract the disease. Anyone considering getting a chickenpox vaccine needs to understand the risks and limitations of the vaccine as well as its benefits. Vaccine Injury Help Center answers your questions such as, “how can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?” so that you and your family can make informed decisions.
Table of Contents
What Is Chickenpox?
Chickenpox, or varicella-zoster, in scientific terminology, is a disease caused by a herpes simplex virus known as varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It is a highly contagious disease that typically produces skin lesions with blisters. In addition to the virus’s characteristic rash, symptoms of chickenpox can include:
The symptoms of chickenpox typically last for about a week. Chickenpox rarely produces severe symptoms and is fatal in less than 1 in 50,000 cases. Usually, the illness is more serious in adults and dangerous in people with weakened immune systems who cannot fight off infection.
If a woman contracts chickenpox while pregnant, the virus can cause congenital disabilities, including malformation of the brain, eyes, and nervous system. It can also lead to premature birth later in pregnancy. Neonatal varicella, or chickenpox in newborns contracted from infected mothers, leads to a risk of pneumonia and lung damage.
Due to the relatively low risk of injury or death from chickenpox and the benefits of childhood immunity, infection was a typical childhood event in the 20th century. Many children contracted chickenpox from their classmates in grade school or junior high school. People who catch chickenpox develop long-lasting immunity against the disease. Catching the disease as a child reduced the more severe effects of contracting it later.
How Does the Chickenpox Vaccine (Varivax) Work?
The chickenpox vaccine is an attenuated live vaccine. This terminology means that the vaccine contains the actual living virus, but it is weaker than the natural virus and does not cause the same symptoms as natural strains.
Researchers developed the chickenpox vaccine in the 1980s, and it became available to Americans in 1995. Countries around the world recommend Varivax or other chickenpox vaccines to most children, unless some condition, such as a compromised immune system, makes the vaccine ineffective or too great a risk.
According to the Committee on Infectious Diseases, the chickenpox vaccine prevents people from catching the disease about 80% of the time. It also prevents severe chickenpox symptoms if infected in almost all cases.
Benefits of the chickenpox vaccine include:
- Herd immunity protects unvaccinated people
- Children do not miss school due to infection
- Reduction in congenital disabilities associated with chickenpox
- Reduction in risk for shingles in adulthood
Doctors recommend that women considering getting pregnant should get the chickenpox vaccine if they have not already had the disease and developed natural immunity.
So if the vaccine gives you immunity, can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?
How Long Does Chickenpox Immunity Last?
The immunity produced by the chickenpox vaccine should last 10 to 20 years and possibly more. It has been a little more than 25 years since the vaccine’s introduction to the American public, so the lifetime protection of the vaccine is unknown.
So the answer to the question, “can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?” is that we don’t fully know, but your odds are much lower if you get the vaccine.
Why Might You Get Chickenpox After Getting Vaccinated?
The chickenpox vaccine typically offers strong protection against the varicella-zoster virus. However, breakout infections do occur sometimes. They are virtually always less severe than typical chickenpox cases and do not generally have complications.
A Weakened Immune System
If you have medical conditions such as untreated AIDS or are receiving immunosuppressant drugs such as some steroids, chemotherapy drugs, and medication to prevent organ rejection after a transplant, you may get chickenpox after a vaccine. This occurs because even though your immune system can recognize the varicella virus, it is not strong enough to fight it off.
Not Getting a Second Shot
A two-dose regimen of the chickenpox vaccine provides more protection from the virus, so missing a shot reduces the vaccine’s effectiveness. Even if you don’t get a second shot, the first shot should provide partial protection, making it almost impossible to get chickenpox after the vaccine.
Inability to Get the Vaccine Due to Increased Risk
Although the chickenpox vaccine is ordinarily effective, there are reasons why it might not be the right choice for everyone. At Vaccine Injury Help Center, we believe that:
- People who cannot take the chickenpox vaccine without unacceptable health risks should not have to face pressure from state authorities to conform to mandates
- People who have suffered harm from chickenpox or herpes zoster vaccines should receive compensation for injuries or emotional distress
People with Weakened Immune Systems
People who have congenital immunodeficiency, immunodeficiency due to AIDS, or a suppressed immune system due to medication they are taking might be unable to produce antibodies to chickenpox even if they get the vaccine. In fact, a live vaccine might even pose a risk of infection.
People who are or may become pregnant should not get the vaccine. There is no evidence at present that the chickenpox vaccine causes congenital disabilities the way that the live wild chickenpox virus does. However, it is a good idea not to rouse the immune system during pregnancy.
People with Allergies
People with a known allergy to any vaccine component should not be vaccinated. Many of the symptoms of an allergic reaction to the chickenpox vaccine are similar to other allergies, including swelling, rashes, hives, increased heart rate, and more. Some symptoms, such as encephalitis and pneumonia, have occurred.
Allergic reactions and intense immune responses are among the most significant risks of the chickenpox vaccine. Like most vaccines, it aims to protect the body by causing the immune system to develop a response to the varicella-zoster virus. If that immune response is too strong or if it targets parts of your body as well as the chickenpox virus, it can have serious consequences.
So, the answer to the question, “can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?” does not matter much if you can’t take the vaccine.
What Happens if You Get Chickenpox Again?
If you contract chickenpox as a child or get the vaccine, you might still get chickenpox, although this is rare. Contracting chickenpox as an adult can lead to more severe health issues, such as pneumonia. Older adults are more likely to have other lung problems, particularly if they are lifelong smokers.
Just as important as the question of, “how can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?” is how to prevent shingles. Adults who have had chickenpox as a child can face a reemergence of viral infection that causes a condition called shingles. Shingles attacks the nerves and skin, producing debilitating symptoms, including:
- Blisters that resemble chickenpox infection
Vaccines Against Shingles
The chickenpox vaccine reduces the risk for shingles as well as chickenpox. However, the chickenpox vaccine is not quite the same as the shingles vaccine. Doctors recommend that adults over 50 who do not have any contraindications get the vaccine to protect themselves against shingles.
Shingrix is a Currently Recommended Vaccine Against Shingles
Shingrix is a non-living vaccine that includes concepts of the varicella-zoster virus. It provides several years of solid protection against shingles, although it does have potential side effects.
Zostavax Demonstrates the Potential Risks of Zoster Vaccines
The FDA approved the Zostavax vaccine for shingles in 2006 but took it off the market in November 2020 due to instances of necrotizing retinitis. The development of the disease was more common in older individuals or individuals with a compromised immune system.
Vaccines and the Law
All fifty states in the United States mandate that schoolchildren receive the chickenpox vaccine, but there is no federal requirement. Parents of children who have a reason to object to the vaccine or feel that the vaccine has harmed them may face different challenges depending on their state of residence.
Note that this article is for informational purposes and is not legal or medical advice.
Were You Harmed By a Vaccine? Get Help at the Vaccine Injury Help Center
We hope this article helped answer the question, “how can you get chickenpox after a vaccine?” The Vaccine Injury Help Center is here for you if you believe that you suffered harm due to the chickenpox vaccine because of:
- an immune response
- a breakthrough infection
- a violation of your rights due to not getting the vaccine
Call the attorneys of Vaccine Injury Help Center at 1-800-810-3457 today for assistance.