Chickenpox Vaccine for Children

The Chicken pox (Varicella) vaccine is available for children over 12 months of age, but is not available for all children via the UK immunisation schedule.

Two doses are needed with a minimum interval of 4 weeks between doses.

Chickenpox vaccine
Close up of chickenpox rash on baby's stomach

What is chicken pox?

Varicella is commonly called chickenpox and is a very common infection. The illness is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus and is spread by droplets inhaled via the respiratory tract. It is characterised by a typical itchy rash, with small blisters filled with fluid. If you haven’t been vaccinated against the disease, or had it before, chickenpox will be very contagious. Some 90 per cent of all chickenpox cases occur in young children.

What are the symptoms of chicken pox?

The most common symptom is the itchy rash that usually appears ten to 21 days following exposure to the virus. The rash caused by chickenpox usually lasts five to ten days. There are other symptoms which can arise before the rash appears. These include: loss of appetite; fever; fatigue; and headache. The fever occurs at the start of the illness and is usually not very high. A high fever can indicate a complication developing, such as sepsis and should always be checked by a doctor.

After the rash has appeared, there are three phases: 1) pink papules (bumps) which break out over a few days; 2) small blisters filled with fluid, known as vesicles, which form before breaking and leaking; 3) crusts which form, covering the blisters which have broken. These take a few more days to heal.

Children are usually most infectious for the 48 hours before the rash has appeared. The virus will be contagious until the blisters have crusted over.

Little girl with chickenpox lying down
Little girl with chickenpox

Can children become ill with chicken pox?

Most children will have the rash and mild symptoms , although even without complications the illness can be very unpleasant. In more severe cases of chickenpox, the rash can cover the entire body and can lead to scarring.

Some children can have complications associated with chickenpox, including neurological concerns, pneumonia and bacterial infections known as sepsis. Fortunately, these complications are rare, but can occur in children with healthy immune systems. Children with suppressed immune systems, due to other illnesses or medicines are at greater risk of more severe chickenpox.

For more information about this illness, please read our article on chickenpox in babies.

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