Vaccinations

Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine

The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine protects against the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox.

The chickenpox vaccine is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule. It is currently only offered on the NHS to people who are in close contact with someone who is particularly vulnerable to chickenpox or its complications.

Who is at risk from chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a common childhood infection. Usually, it's mild and complications are rare. Almost all children develop immunity to chickenpox after infection, so most only catch it once. The disease can be more severe in adults.

Certain groups of people, however, are at greater risk of serious complications from chickenpox. These include:

  • people who have weakened immune systems through illnesses such as HIV, or treatments like chemotherapy
  • pregnant women. Chickenpox can be very serious for an unborn baby when a pregnant woman catches the infection. It can cause a range of serious birth defects, as well as severe disease in the baby when it is born. Read more about what to do if you catch or are exposed to chickenpox in pregnancy

How the chickenpox vaccine works

The chickenpox vaccine contains a small amount of weakened live varicella zoster virus.

The vaccine causes your immune system to produce antibodies that will help protect against chickenpox.

Find out about chickenpox vaccine side-effects.

How is the chickenpox vaccine given?

The vaccine is given as two separate injections, usually into the upper arm, four to eight weeks apart.

Who should have the chickenpox vaccine?

It is recommended for certain individuals, such as healthcare workers and people who come into close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system. This is to lower the chances of infecting those at risk. 

For example, if you were having chemotherapy treatment, it would be recommended that non-immune children close to you are given the chickenpox vaccination.

The vaccine would also be recommended if you were about to start work in a radiotherapy department and you had no previous history of chickenpox.

Read more about who should have the chickenpox vaccine.

How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?

It has been shown that 9 out of 10 children vaccinated with a single dose will develop immunity against chickenpox. A two-dose schedule is recommended, as it gives an even better immune response.

The vaccination is not quite as effective after childhood. It's estimated that three-quarters of teenagers and adults who are vaccinated will become immune to chickenpox.

If you are worried your child has a rash that could be chickenpox, take a look at this childhood rashes slideshow to see if the rash is a typical symptom of chickenpox or another childhood condition.

Read answers to common questions about the chickenpox vaccine.

Page last reviewed: 19/04/2014

Next review due: 19/04/2016

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