Healthy living

Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine

  • Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is a highly contagious viral disease.
  • The disease can make a child very sick. Symptoms are worse in adults and can sometimes lead to hospitalisation.
  • Chickenpox is a vaccine-preventable disease.

The chickenpox vaccine contains a portion of the virus that has been modified to reduce its virulence (strength) while offering protection against the disease. The chickenpox vaccine is now combined with portions of the measles, mumps and rubella viruses to form the MMRV vaccine which is offered to children at 18 months of age. The vaccine triggers an immune response that protects you from becoming ill if you are exposed to the chickenpox virus.

Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, symptoms are usually milder with fewer scabs and mild or no fever.

Who should have the vaccine?

Children should receive the chickenpox vaccine as part of their routine childhood vaccinations.

Adolescents and adults who have not already been vaccinated or had the disease should consider getting the chickenpox vaccine to avoid catching chickenpox as an adult when symptoms can be more severe.

Women planning pregnancy should get their immunity checked to see if they have had the disease in the past and are now protected. If not, they should consider getting vaccinated against chickenpox. If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox while in the first or early second trimester of pregnancy, there is a small chance the baby could be born with birth defects.

Pregnant women who become infected with chickenpox are also at increased risk of serious and potentially life threatening complications – 10 to 20 per cent of pregnant women who get chickenpox develop pneumonia.

Who should not have the vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is a live vaccine and therefore not recommended in pregnancy.

It’s also important to tell your doctor or immunisation provider if you have experienced:

  • any severe (anaphylaxis) reactions to previous chickenpox vaccine
  • anaphylaxis following any vaccine component.
What if I am travelling overseas?

The chickenpox virus is common in many countries other than Australia where vaccination for this disease is not routinely offered.

Travellers should consider being vaccinated for chickenpox.

If you are intending to travel overseas, check Smartraveller (external site) for updates about international chickenpox outbreaks.

Read more about health advice for Australians going overseas for work, travel or study.

Who receives the vaccine for free?

Varicella vaccination is recommended as part of routine childhood immunisation. It is provided free for children at 18 months.

A catch-up program is available for children aged 10 to 13 who have not had the disease or not received the varicella vaccine. This is offered through the year 8 school vaccination program.

Adolescents aged 14 and over are recommended 2 doses of vaccine (given at least 1 month apart).

Note: Some immunisation providers may charge a consultation fee for administering the vaccine. You should check what the costs will be when making an appointment with your immunisation provider.

What are the risks?

Common side effects

Common side effects can include:

  • generally mild and well tolerated, low-grade fever
  • muscle aches
  • soreness, swelling and redness and a small lump appearing at the injection site.
  • rash up to 5 to 26 days following vaccination (if this does occur, cover the rash and avoid contact with people who have impaired immunity for the duration of the rash).

Severe side effects

If you or someone in your care experiences a reaction you are concerned about, seek medical advice:

  • see your doctor
  • phone healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222
  • visit your hospital emergency department
  • call an ambulance.
After the vaccination?

If you develop a fever higher than 38.5 °C after vaccination, take paracetamol as directed depending on your weight and age.

Make sure you drink extra fluids and wear lightweight, loose clothing.

How do I report an adverse event?

The Western Australian Vaccine Safety Surveillance System (WAVSS) is the central reporting service in WA for any significant adverse events following immunisation.

If you have experienced an adverse reaction to a vaccine:

Where can I get vaccinated?

The chickenpox vaccine is available in metropolitan and country WA from immunisation providers including GP clinics, community health clinics and Aboriginal Medical Services.

For further information, contact your GP or immunisation provider.

Where to get help

  • For emergency or life-threatening conditions, visit an emergency department or dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance.
  • See your doctor.
  • Visit a GP after hours.
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222.
  • Phone the Immunise Australia Program Hotline 1800 671 811.

Remember

  • Chickenpox is easy to catch.
  • Chickenpox can make a child very sick.
  • Symptoms are worse in adults and can sometimes lead to hospitalisation and in extreme cases even death among people with low immunity.
  • Chickenpox vaccination is easy and free for toddlers and year 8 students.

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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