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Chickenpox and Shingles Vaccination

Shingles

Shingles is caused by the same varicella zoster virus as chickenpox. In shingles, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system once the initial infection has cleared. If the virus is ‘reactivated’ in later life (usually, but not always, after the age of 70), this is known as shingles and can be very debilitating.

The disease differs from chickenpox in that it usually affects a specific area and does not cross over the midline of the body. It is not possible to catch shingles from somebody with the condition; however chickenpox can be contracted by those who have not already had the infection.

There is a routine one off vaccine against shingles for people aged 70 years. Please refer to our Shingles information leaflet.

Chickenpox

Chickenpox is the common name for the varicella zoster virus, which causes a rash of red, itchy spots on the face and/or body that turn into fluid-filled blisters. It is a usually a mild illness that most children will catch at some point and will rarely result in any long-term health issues.

Almost everybody that contracts the infection will develop immunity to chickenpox that will protect them from recurrences in later life.

Vaccination

A vaccine protecting against the chickenpox virus is not offered as part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule, but is recommended to anybody that is likely to come into close contact with particularly vulnerable individuals. This is to lower the chance of infecting people who are at greater risk of serious complications from the disease, such as those with weakened immune systems through illnesses such as HIV or treatments like chemotherapy. 

Specifically, the following groups should be given the chickenpox vaccine:

  • Non-immune healthcare workers
  • Non-immune close relatives and carers of individuals who have a weakened immune system through illness or treatments such as chemotherapy.

Vaccination process

Two separate injections are delivered, typically into the upper arm, four to eight weeks apart. These vaccines are ‘live’ and contain a small amount of the weakened varicella zoster virus. This stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies that help protect against chickenpox.

Evidence that this vaccine is effective

Studies have shown that over 9 in 10 children who receive the two vaccine doses will develop immunity to chickenpox. In adolescents and adults the vaccination is slightly less effective, offering a protection rate of approximately 75%.

Updated: October 2017 Review Date: October 2018

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