By: Warner, Jennifer
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the varicella vaccine has significantly reduced deaths from chickenpox in the United States. Chickenpox deaths have dropped by 88 percent overall and by 97 percent among children and adolescents since 1995, the researchers found. The varicella vaccine program began in the United States in 1995. Before then, chickenpox was responsible for about 100 deaths and 11,000 hospitalizations each year. “The impressive decline in varicella deaths can be directly attributed to successful implementation of the 1-dose vaccination program,” says the CDC’s Dr. Mona Marin and colleagues in the journal Pediatrics. “With the current 2-dose program, there is potential that these most severe outcomes of a vaccine-preventable disease could be eliminated.” The first dose of varicella vaccine is given at age 12 months to 18 months. In 2006, national vaccination recommendations added a second dose, given at the age of four to six years. Since 2005, the varicella vaccine has also been available in the MMRV, a combination vaccine that offers protection against measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella. Although most chickenpox cases are mild, it can be life-threatening in rare cases, particularly among those with weakened immune systems. For their study, the researchers looked at national data on deaths for which varicella was listed as an underlying or contributing cause from 2002 to 2007. During the 12 years of the one-dose varicella vaccination program, the annual death rate from chickenpox decreased by 88 percent.