Chickenpox used to be very common in the United States. But the good news is that the vaccine has greatly reduced the number of people who get it. Two doses of the chickenpox vaccine are over 90% effective at preventing it. Most people who get the vaccine don’t get chickenpox — and those who do usually get a much milder version of the disease.
There are 2 vaccines that protect against chickenpox:
- The chickenpox vaccine protects children and adults from chickenpox
- The MMRV vaccine protects children from measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox
Chickenpox is very contagious — it spreads easily from person to person. And while it’s usually mild, it can cause serious complications like pneumonia (lung infection). Certain people — like infants, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women — are at increased risk for complications.
The chickenpox virus can also cause shingles later in life. Shingles is a disease that causes a painful skin rash and can affect the nervous system. Children who get the chickenpox vaccine may have a lower risk of developing shingles later on — and those who do get shingles often have a milder case than someone who has had chickenpox.
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent chickenpox. And when enough people get vaccinated against chickenpox, the entire community is less likely to get it. So when you and your family get vaccinated, you help keep yourselves and your community healthy.
Chickenpox is caused by a virus. Symptoms of chickenpox include:
- A red, itchy skin rash with blisters
- Feeling tired
- Not feeling hungry
Chickenpox usually spreads when a person touches chickenpox or shingles blisters — or if they breathe in the virus. You can breathe in the virus after someone with chickenpox or shingles scratches their blisters, which releases the virus into the air.
It’s also possible to get chickenpox from breathing in tiny droplets from people who have it that get into the air after they breathe or talk. Learn more about chickenpox.
All children, adolescents, and adults who aren’t immune to (protected from) chickenpox need 2 doses of the chickenpox vaccine. People who have only had 1 dose of chickenpox vaccine need to get a second dose.
Children age 12 months and older need to get the chickenpox vaccine as part of their routine vaccine schedule.
Children need 2 doses of the vaccine at the following ages:
- 12 through 15 months for the first dose
- 4 through 6 years for the second dose (or sooner as long as it’s 3 months after the first dose)
Children ages 1 through 12 years can get the MMRV vaccine, which is a combination vaccine that protects against chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella. Your child’s doctor can recommend the vaccine that’s right for your child.
If your child missed the chickenpox vaccines, talk with your child’s doctor about scheduling a catch-up shot.
If you aren’t immune to chickenpox (if you haven’t had chickenpox in the past or you haven’t been vaccinated against it), you need to get 2 doses of the vaccine about 1 month apart.
Talk with your doctor about how to protect your family from chickenpox.
Some people should not get the chickenpox vaccine or may need to wait — for example, if you:
- Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to a previous dose of the chickenpox vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine (including gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin)
- Have recently had a blood transfusion or were given other blood products (like plasma)
- Have an illness that’s more serious than a cold
Be sure to tell your doctor before getting the chickenpox vaccine if you:
- Have HIV/AIDS or another immune system disorder
- Are taking medicines that can affect the immune system
- Are getting treatment for cancer.
Side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They may include:
- Pain, swelling, and redness where the shot was given
- Mild rash
- Low fever
Serious side effects from the chickenpox vaccine are very rare.
Like any medicine, there's a very small chance that the chickenpox vaccine could cause a serious reaction. Keep in mind that getting the chickenpox vaccine is much safer than getting chickenpox. Learn more about vaccine side effects.
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) have detailed information about recommended vaccines. Read the VISs for vaccines that protect against chickenpox:
- Chickenpox vaccine
- MMRV vaccine — protects against chickenpox, measles, mumps, and rubella (for children)