Who should have the chickenpox jab?
Chickenpox vaccination is not part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
It's only offered to individuals who are likely to come into contact with people particularly vulnerable to chickenpox, such as those having chemotherapy.
This reduces the risk of chickenpox spreading to vulnerable people.
Why is the chickenpox vaccination not part of the routine childhood immunisation schedule?
There's a worry that introducing chickenpox vaccination for all children could increase the risk of chickenpox and shingles in adults.
While chickenpox during childhood is unpleasant, the vast majority of children recover quickly and easily.
In adults, chickenpox is more severe and the risk of complications increases with age.
If a childhood chickenpox vaccination programme was introduced, people would not catch chickenpox as children because the infection would no longer circulate in areas where the majority of children had been vaccinated.
This would leave unvaccinated children susceptible to contracting chickenpox as adults, when they're more likely to develop a more severe infection or a secondary complication, or in pregnancy, when there's a risk of the infection harming the baby.
We could also see a significant increase in cases of shingles in adults.
When people get chickenpox, the virus remains in the body. This can then reactivate at a later date and cause shingles.
Being exposed to chickenpox as an adult (for example, through contact with infected children) boosts your immunity to shingles.
If you vaccinate children against chickenpox, you lose this natural boosting, so immunity in adults will drop and more shingles cases will occur.
If I want the chickenpox vaccine for my child, can I get it free on the NHS?
Chickenpox vaccinations are provided free on the NHS where there's a clinical need, such as for healthy people who are not immune to chickenpox and are in close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system.
This is to reduce the risk of the person with a weakened immune system catching chickenpox and then developing serious chickenpox complications.
Examples of children who'd probably be eligible for a chickenpox jab on the NHS include the brothers and sisters of a child with leukaemia, or a child whose parent is undergoing chemotherapy.
You cannot get the chickenpox vaccine free on the NHS if you simply want to prevent your child catching chickenpox and there are no other associated health risks.
A number of private travel clinics offer chickenpox vaccinations.
I'm not sure if I had chickenpox as a child. How can I check?
The first thing you can do is ask your parents.
If you spent your childhood in England, it's very likely that you had chickenpox as a child.
Your GP may have noted that you had chickenpox in your medical records.
If people in 'at-risk' groups cannot have the vaccine, what treatments are available if they're exposed to chickenpox?
People with weakened immune systems and pregnant women without immunity who are exposed to chickenpox can be given a medication called varicella zoster immunoglobulin (VZIG).
VZIG contains chickenpox virus-fighting antibodies, and can reduce chickenpox symptoms and lower the risk of complications for those exposed to the infection.
I recently had the chickenpox vaccine and have just found out I'm pregnant. What should I do?
If you find out you're pregnant within a month of having the chickenpox vaccine, it's best to contact your GP for advice.
Do not worry. A study in the US of nearly 700 women who'd received the chickenpox vaccine while pregnant found no cases of babies affected by the vaccine.
Page last reviewed: 23 January 2019
Next review due: 23 January 2022