Convince me the chicken pox vaccine isn't stupid

Don’t worry - I’m not an antivaxxer and I think Jenny McCarthy should have her eyes gouged out with spoon. We have ALWAYS obtained all recommended vaccines for our son, including chicken pox, and a few extras due to the fact we have raised him in developing countries.

But. Our understanding is that if you get chicken pox as a kid, statistically speaking it is NOT likely to be serious. I would really like hard statistics on the outcomes of healthy kids who get chicken pox when they are young, but can’t find them.

On the other hand, the chicken pox vaccine only seems to be about 80% effective. So if you get the vaccine, you are still at a fairly significant risk of getting chicken pox, probably at an older age than you would have if you hadn’t had the vaccine and simply had chicken pox the way kids used to before the vaccine.

Here’s the problem: as I understand it, chicken pox is much more serious if you get it when you are older. A 5 year old with chicken pox? No big deal. A 20 year old with chicken pox? Possible complications could result.

Anyway, we did have our kid vaccinated. AND GUESS WHAT?!? HE NOW HAS CHICKEN POX. He’s 13, and I guess there is no reason to be alarmed. He has also been prescribed an antiviral medication, so perhaps that, along with his vaccination, will help to ensure that the disease does have a very mild course.

Still, I am ROYALLY PISSED that our son is sick with a disease he “should” have had years ago. Now he has it at an age where he is only barely safe from the likelihood of side effects. The doctor here said chicken pox is more serious after puberty, and luckily he’s still pretty much a kid - though plenty of his 13-year-old classmates are well along into puberty.

If my resentment of the vaccine is misplaced, please educate me. I really, really don’t want to be one of those crazy ignorant people who is against vaccines because they are new age weirdos. But I’m having a hard time seeing how the risk of having chicken pox when you are 4 or 6 is greater than the risk of getting it when you are 13 or 18, which seems to be what you face if you get the vaccine.

I didn’t have the vax (wasn’t invented yet) and I still got chicken pox at 13 and it was pretty miserable for a little while, but ultimately no big deal. I’m just saying that 13 is not old; there’s a good chance he would not have had it sooner even without the vax. And by getting it, he had a pretty good chance to never get it at all. I can’t make a good argument for not getting the vaccine from this.

“NOT likely to be serious” would not be how I’d describe the risks.

From the CDC:

So, even in cases like your child getting the disease, the severity of the disease is likely to be reduced.

The bigger picture, though, is that the vaccine isn’t really aimed all that strongly at sparing little kids a bout of itchy bumps, even though that in itself is a good thing, given that it does kill, as was mentioned above. There are more severe complications that can be reduced and hopefully eliminated given widespread vaccination. Unprotected adults, in whom chicken pox is much more likely to be serious, would have less opportunity to get infected. And then there’s shingles. If you’re not aware, shingles is a very painful condition that’s caused by the same virus. When you get chicken pox, even if it’s a mild childhood case, the virus can go dormant within your nerve cells - it’s a herpes virus, after all, and that’s kind of what they do - and stay there for decades. When it reemerges, that’s shingles. If you can avoid getting infected in the first place, you don’t have to worry about that.

Yes, it’s not perfect. Yes, there will occasionally be a person here or there who is inconvenienced by its imperfections, even to the point of arguably having a worse time of it than if they hadn’t been vaccinated. But for the human species as a whole, a simple, safe, effective vaccine that helps reduce a disease is an unequivocally good thing.

I’m sorry for your son’s discomfort.

If you want an anecdote, I had it when I was 13 also - I caught it from my younger siblings. (it sucked, but no complications, just lots of pain and scarring) On the flip side, I was not vaccinated when I was younger, but my mother did spend about 4 years dragging me to every pox-party and daycare/school outbreak she could find - it just never worked.

I can’t find a good cite now, but I have also heard that getting the vax helps with possible outbreaks of shingles later in life. Shingles suck massively, and so that’s a good reason also. There is a vax for shingles, but they want you to be 60 to get it, and everyone I have met who got shingles got them in their 40s.

So, there’s another reason for you.

Is there a concrete reason for the part I bolded?

I have no earthly idea, but that’s what keeps coming up in searches.

… Checking the CDC site, I’m seeing that the older you are, the worse the shingles seem to hit, and that since it’s new, they only know that the vax is good for about 6 years.

So, I’m guessing that they are pushing the age up so that elderly people aren’t at risk of having the vax run dry just when they’re at most risk for severe complications? With people regularly living to be much older than 60, they’re going to have to re-think that plan eventually anyway -

FDA will let you have it at 50, but that’s still pretty old. I can’t see why you can’t just get a booster even if it does run out every few years - I mean, tetanus doesn’t work for more than 10, so you just know to get it every decade so you’re covered.

weird, huh?

They think the vaccination will help shield you from shingles, they don’t actually know that yet. Far as I’m able to tell that is.

According to this the shingles vaccine is basically the same as the chicken pox vaccine. Just a higher dose.

If you get the disease by natural means you don’t know the strength of the illness. It could be a very mild or it could be a seriously awful one. That’s the problem with chicken pox parties. It could be no big deal for one kid and hell for another even if the second kid is healthier than the first. I had it when I was seven naturally. Two miserable weeks of itching and begging my mom for calomine lotion. My kids get the vax.

So sorry to hear about your son. I hope he has a quick and easy recovery.

I’m guessing that’s certainly part of why they don’t offer it to younger people. Plus, most people see it as an older person’s disease. At least I did when I got it. I was 33, if I recall correctly. It was absolutely excruciating and could’ve caused damage to my optical nerve (it was in my right eye), which would’ve possibly resulted in blindness. As a younger person and luckily taking antivirals due to its location, I got over it in a week and a half, but many people who are older and get it continue to have pain for months.

I guess I have to wonder…if a vaccine for chicken pox makes it less likely that your kid gets it, has few side effects and if the kid gets it makes chicken pox less bad, why wouldn’t you get it?

On the one hand, I believe in the power of naturally building up a kid’s immune system by letting them play in the dirt and not disinfecting everything to within an inch of their lives. On the other, if you can prevent a potentially serious illness, it seems like a no-brainer to do so.

Kiddo was vaccinated for chicken pox just before entering kindergarten. He got chicken pox two years later. It was a very mild case. I attribute that to the vaccine.

I think there’s one study that shows a decrease in shingles in young people, but the vaccine simply hasn’t been around long enough for them to do proper longitudinal studies on it.
Vaccines are most effective when the large majority of the population has gotten them. That way, the very few people who get the disease spread it to very few people, which means an incidence of the disease can either be eradicated or have an extremely limited lifespan in the population. We’re not at that level of vaccination rate with the chicken pox vaccine, which means the people who are vaccinated are exposed much more often than they would be in a vaccinated population. Thus, an 80% prevention rate doesn’t seem that huge, when in a largely vaccinated population, it’s probably enough to kill chicken pox pretty much completely.

Herd. Immunity.

Even though not 100% effective, vaccinations greatly reduce the communicability of a disease, thus reducing the risk for everyone - especially those who can’t have the vaccine due to allergies.

Vaccines aren’t about just protecting you. They’re about protecting public health. Those who don’t vaccinate are putting others at increased risk.

I had Chicken Pox at 16 and was one of the statistics. My case was so severe I ended up hospitalized. I wasn’t just covered with scabs, I had lesions in my eyes, down my throat, in my ears and another rather painful place. I ran a very high fever that would not come down with OTC medication. My mom had been in contact with my Dr. and when they finally decided to bring me in they had a nice little isolation room ready for me. I was in the hospital for 3 days, but I don’t remember too much of it. I do remember the side effects of the Bendryl and that was when we found out that Benedryl makes me wacky.

I missed almost a month of school.

My son got the shot and then got the disease. I read a lot about what to expect and it sounded terrible. But he had an extremely mild version of the disease, and I am convinced that is due to the vaccine. Mild chicken pox is WAY better than severe chicken pox. It’s totally worth it.

It’s possible that not enough data has been collected yet to justify a booster regimen for this vaccine. Targetting the most at-risk group for the initial (first few years) use of the vaccine makes sense, and, again, with more time and data the age group that can receive it might drop, especially if a booster becomes possible.

Cynically, there may be patent issues here as well: it’s possible that the parent company is planning to file amended data with the FDA in order to obtain patents for a “new use” for the vaccine which could extend it’s exclusivity time and delay a generic competitor.

I asked our pediatrician about this (and like you, I’m not against vaccines in general, just the chicken pox one). I had chicken pox in fourth grade, it was itchy and I had to miss two weeks of school, but other than that it was fine, and I didn’t see what the point was of vaccinating my daughter.

She said first that it could reduce the severity of shingles. Having known at least one person who had a fairly bad case of it, I think that’s not such a bad reason. She said, secondly, that at least in CA where it’s been required for a while, the chicken pox virus is now as a result rare enough that you might not otherwise catch it until you were fairly old, at which point it’s much more severe (but if you did after being vaccinated, like your son, the symptoms would not be as severe).

That second reason, um, is probably an argument that the chicken pox vaccine is stupid, but it did convince me that my daughter had better get it.

If you think about it, vaccines are more compatible with the “playing in the dirt” approach than they are with hypersanitization. I mean, anything that triggers an immune response to something else is either the dead version of that thing or a peptide contained in the protein in question, so vaccines are pretty much injecting you with the “dirt.” They just do it in a way that lets you build the immune response without actually having the infection.

I’ve known 2 people who had shingles at 40 (my sister, and a co-worker). Both of them were in such severe pain that they ended up in the ER, and had some lasting neurological effects. That’s good enough for me.