Varicella (Chickenpox) Vaccine: What You Need to Know
Why get vaccinated?
Varicella vaccine can prevent chickenpox.
Chickenpox can cause an itchy rash that usually lasts about a week. It can also cause fever, tiredness, loss of appetite, and headache. It can lead to skin infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the blood vessels, and swelling of the brain and/or spinal cord covering, and infections of the bloodstream, bone, or joints. Some people who get chickenpox get a painful rash called shingles (also known as herpes zoster) years later.
Chickenpox is usually mild but it can be serious in infants under 12 months of age, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system. Some people get so sick that they need to be hospitalized. It doesn’t happen often, but people can die from chickenpox.
Most people who are vaccinated with 2 doses of varicella vaccine will be protected for life.
Children need 2 doses of varicella vaccine, usually:
- First dose: 12 through 15 months of age
- Second dose: 4 through 6 years of age
Older children, adolescents, and adults also need 2 doses of varicella vaccine if they are not already immune to chickenpox.
Varicella vaccine may be given at the same time as other vaccines. Also, a child between 12 months and 12 years of age might receive varicella vaccine together with MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine in a single shot, known as MMRV. Your health care provider can give you more information.
Talk with your health care provider
Tell your vaccine provider if the person getting the vaccine:
- Has had an allergic reaction after a previous dose of varicella vaccine, or has any severe, life-threatening allergies.
- Is pregnant, or thinks she might be pregnant.
- Has a weakened immune system, or has a parent, brother, or sister with a history of hereditary or congenital immune system problems.
- Is taking salicylates (such as aspirin).
- Has recently had a blood transfusion or received other blood products.
- Has tuberculosis
- Has gotten any other vaccines in the past 4 weeks.
In some cases, your health care provider may decide to postpone varicella vaccination to a future visit.
People with minor illnesses, such as a cold, may be vaccinated. People who are moderately or severely ill should usually wait until they recover before getting varicella vaccine.
Your health care provider can give you more information.
Risks of a vaccine reaction
- Sore arm from the injection, fever, or redness or rash where the shot is given can happen after varicella vaccine.
- More serious reactions happen very rarely. These can include pneumonia, infection of the brain and/or spinal cord covering, or seizures that are often associated with fever.
- In people with serious immune system problems, this vaccine may cause an infection which may be life-threatening. People with serious immune system problems should not get varicella vaccine.
It is possible for a vaccinated person to develop a rash. If this happens, the varicella vaccine virus could be spread to an unprotected person. Anyone who gets a rash should stay away from people with a weakened immune system and infants until the rash goes away. Talk with your health care provider to learn more.
Some people who are vaccinated against chickenpox get shingles (herpes zoster) years later. This is much less common after vaccination than after chickenpox disease.
People sometimes faint after medical procedures, including vaccination. Tell your provider if you feel dizzy or have vision changes or ringing in the ears.
As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a severe allergic reaction, other serious injury, or death.
What if there is a serious problem?
An allergic reaction could occur after the vaccinated person leaves the clinic. If you see signs of a severe allergic reaction (hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heartbeat, dizziness, or weakness), call 9-1-1 and get the person to the nearest hospital.
For other signs that concern you, call your health care provider.
Adverse reactions should be reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Your health care provider will usually file this report, or you can do it yourself. Visit the VAERS websiteexternal icon at or call 1-800-822-7967. VAERS is only for reporting reactions, and VAERS staff do not give medical advice.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a federal program that was created to compensate people who may have been injured by certain vaccines. Visit the VICP websiteexternal icon at or call 1-800-338-2382 to learn about the program and about filing a claim. There is a time limit to file a claim for compensation.
How can I learn more?
- Ask your health care provider.
- Call your local or state health department.
- Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO)