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varicella virus (chickenpox) vaccine

Generic Name: varicella virus (chickenpox) vaccine (VAR i SEL a VYE rus vax EEN)
Brand Name: Varivax

What is varicella virus vaccine?

Varicella (commonly known as chickenpox) is a common childhood disease that causes fever, skin rash, and a breakout of fluid-filled blisters on the skin. Most people who receive this vaccine will not get chickenpox, or will get only a mild case and will recover faster.

Chickenpox is usually mild, but it can be serious or even fatal in young infants and in adults. It can lead to severe skin infection, breathing problems, brain damage, or death. A person who has had chickenpox can develop herpes zoster (also called shingles) later in life, which causes painful blisters, skin infections, severe nerve pain, and hearing or vision problems, which may last for months or years.

Chickenpox is spread from person to person through the air, or by coming into contact with the fluid from a chickenpox blister.

Varicella virus vaccine is used to help prevent these diseases in adults and children who are at least 12 months old.

This vaccine works by exposing you to a small dose of the virus or a protein from the virus, which causes the body to develop immunity to the disease. This vaccine will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body.

Like any vaccine, varicella virus vaccine may not provide protection from disease in every person.

What is the most important information I should know about this vaccine?

You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot. You should also not receive this vaccine if you have an infection or any illness with fever, active tuberculosis that is not being treated, or a weak immune system.

You should not receive this vaccine if you are pregnant. Use effective birth control to prevent pregnancy for 1 to 3 months after receiving a varicella vaccine.

What should I discuss with my healthcare provider before receiving this vaccine?

You should not receive this vaccine if you are allergic to gelatin or neomycin, or if you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to any vaccine containing varicella.

You should also not receive this vaccine if you have:

  • an infection or any illness with fever;

  • active tuberculosis that is not being treated;

  • a weak immune system caused by disease (such as cancer, HIV, or AIDS), or by receiving certain medicines such as steroids, chemotherapy or radiation; or

  • if you are pregnant.

You should not receive this vaccine if you are pregnant. Chickenpox can cause birth defects, low birth weight, or a serious infection in the newborn, and this vaccine exposes you to a small amount of this virus. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant before you receive this vaccine. Use effective birth control to prevent pregnancy for 1 to 3 months after receiving a varicella vaccine.

To make sure varicella vaccine is safe for you, tell your doctor if:

  • you have a weak immune system;

  • someone in your household has a weak immune system; or

  • you have recently had a blood transfusion or have received an immune globulin or other blood products.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that you may continue to breast-feed a baby after you have received this vaccine.

How is this vaccine given?

This vaccine is given as an injection (shot) under the skin. You will receive this injection in a doctor's office, clinic setting, or pharmacy.

Varicella vaccine is recommended for:

  • healthcare workers;

  • caregivers who have close contact with elderly people or patients with weak immune systems;

  • people who have close contact with children;

  • college students;

  • military personnel;

  • inmates in correctional institutions; or

  • people who travel to different countries.

Any person who has never had chickenpox or received this vaccine should get 1 or 2 doses of varicella vaccine.

Children from 1 to 12 years old should receive 2 doses. The booster dose may be given 3 months after the first, but may be delayed until the child is 4 to 6 years old.

People who are at least 13 years old and have never had chickenpox or received a varicella vaccine should receive 2 doses 4 to 8 weeks apart.

Your individual booster schedule may be different from these guidelines. Follow your doctor's instructions or the schedule recommended by your local health department.

This vaccine can cause false results on a skin test for tuberculosis. Tell any doctor who treats you if you have received a varicella virus vaccine within the past 4 to 6 weeks.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Contact your doctor if you will miss a booster dose or if you get behind schedule. The next dose should be given as soon as possible. There is no need to start over.

Be sure to receive all recommended doses of this vaccine. You may not be fully protected against disease if you do not receive the full series.

What happens if I overdose?

An overdose of this vaccine is unlikely to occur.

What should I avoid before or after receiving this vaccine?

For at least 6 weeks after receiving a varicella vaccine, avoid coming into contact with newborn infants, pregnant women who have never had chickenpox, and anyone who has a weak immune system. There is a chance that you could pass the virus to a person with a weak immune system or no immunity to chickenpox.

This vaccine side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: dizziness, weakness, fast heartbeats; hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot. Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving this vaccine. When you receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous shot caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with chickenpox is much more dangerous to your health than receiving this vaccine. However, like any medicine, this vaccine can cause side effects but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

Call your doctor at once if you have:

  • high fever;

  • seizure (black-out or convulsions; can occur up to 12 days after vaccination);

  • cough, pain or tight feeling in your chest, breathing problems; or

  • easy bruising or bleeding, unusual weakness.

Common side effects include:

  • redness, itching, tenderness, swelling, bruising, or a lump where the shot was given;

  • low fever; or

  • mild skin rash that looks like chickenpox (can occur up to 1 month after vaccination).

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report vaccine side effects to the US Department of Health and Human Services at 1-800-822-7967.

See also: Side effects (in more detail)

Varicella virus (chickenpox) vaccine dosing information

Usual Adult Dose for Varicella-Zoster -- Prophylaxis:

0.5 mL (1 dose), subcutaneously into the deltoid or anterolateral thigh

Comments:
-Administer 2 doses, a minimum of 4 weeks apart

Use: Active immunization for the prevention of varicella in individuals 12 months of age and older

Usual Pediatric Dose for Varicella-Zoster -- Prophylaxis:

0.5 mL (1 dose), subcutaneously into the deltoid or anterolateral thigh

Comments:
-Children under 13 years old: if giving a second dose, separate doses by a minimum of 3 months.
-Children 13 years and older: administer 2 doses, a minimum of 4 weeks apart.

Use: Active immunization for the prevention of varicella in individuals 12 months of age and older

What other drugs will affect varicella virus vaccine?

For anyone under 18 years old: Do not take a salicylate medicine (such as aspirin, Kaopectate, KneeRelief, Pamprin Cramp Formula, Pepto-Bismol, Tricosal, Trilisate, and others) for at least 6 weeks after receiving a varicella virus vaccine. Salicylates can cause Reye's syndrome, a serious and sometimes fatal condition in children or teenagers with chickenpox, and the varicella virus exposes you to a small amount of this virus.

There may be other drugs that can affect this vaccine. Tell your doctor about all your medications and any you start or stop using during your varicella virus vaccine booster schedule. Not all possible interactions are listed in this medication guide.

Where can I get more information?

  • Your doctor or pharmacist can provide more information about this vaccine. Additional information is available from your local health department or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.
  • Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure that the information provided by Cerner Multum, Inc. ('Multum') is accurate, up-to-date, and complete, but no guarantee is made to that effect. Drug information contained herein may be time sensitive. Multum information has been compiled for use by healthcare practitioners and consumers in the United States and therefore Multum does not warrant that uses outside of the United States are appropriate, unless specifically indicated otherwise. Multum's drug information does not endorse drugs, diagnose patients or recommend therapy. Multum's drug information is an informational resource designed to assist licensed healthcare practitioners in caring for their patients and/or to serve consumers viewing this service as a supplement to, and not a substitute for, the expertise, skill, knowledge and judgment of healthcare practitioners. The absence of a warning for a given drug or drug combination in no way should be construed to indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective or appropriate for any given patient. Multum does not assume any responsibility for any aspect of healthcare administered with the aid of information Multum provides. The information contained herein is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. If you have questions about the drugs you are taking, check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.

Copyright 1996-2012 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 10.02.

Date modified: March 15, 2017
Last reviewed: February 06, 2017

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