One of the most common diseases that occur in childhood is varicella, commonly known as chickenpox. The disease triggers fever outbreaks of rashes and blisters on the skin that are filled with fluid.  The chickenpox vaccine helps prevent the condition among adults and children above one year of age. While it offers protection, it is also important to note that certain precautions need to be taken before taking the vaccine. There is also the possibility of varicella vaccine side effects among a section of users. In the following sections, detailed information about the vaccine, its mechanism of action, and the possible side effects are outlined in detail.

How does the Varicella virus vaccine work?

A significant number of vaccines for the prevention of diseases work by exposing the recipient of the vaccine to a very small dose of the virus. This in turn triggers the body’s natural immunity to the virus or the protein from the virus. This will grant immunity to the individual from subsequent infections from the virus, for a specific period, depending on the vaccine strength and the nature of the disease. Varicella vaccine works in a similar manner, and like all vaccines, it will remain ineffective for individuals who have already been infected. In other words, it can only work as a preventive measure against the infection, but will not work in an individual with an infection. It is not a form of treatment, but protection.

Precautions that need to be taken prior to the vaccine

Individuals taking the vaccine are to follow certain precautions, to prevent undesirable outcomes or complications. For instance, potential recipients who are allergic to certain substances, such as neomycin or gelatin are unsuitable to receive the vaccine. Similarly, individuals with a history of allergies that are life-threatening in nature are also not suitable to receive the dose. Individuals planning to take the dose are to be aware of the following conditions that make them unsuitable. Infections, fever, or illnesses make it necessary for an individual to put off the vaccination. Patients diagnosed with tuberculosis and who have not received treatment for the condition are not to take the varicella vaccine.

Patients with certain existing conditions that make the immune system weak, are also not to take the vaccine. For instance, diseases such as cancer, HIV, or AIDS are all conditions that have an impact on the immune system of the body. Such patients are not to take the dose, and seek medical advice on the best course of action. Similarly, patients on certain treatment regimens are also not to take the vaccine, as this could result in untoward outcomes. Treatments that include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and patients on steroids are all considered as not suitable for the vaccine. Pregnant women are also not to take the vaccine as this could result in birth defects in the fetus. It is necessary for pregnant women to follow proven birth control methods or some form of contraception for a period of three months after the last dose of the varicella vaccine. Any unplanned conception during this period is to be immediately communicated to the doctor.

In addition to the above, patients with family members with weak immune systems are also to seek special medical advice before taking the vaccine. Intimation to the doctor or healthcare provider administering the vaccine should include information about any recent blood transfusion.

Commonly reported varicella vaccine side effects

All medications come with the possibility of undesirable effects and this extends to vaccines. This is mainly attributed to the mechanism of action of the vaccines or the mediations and the properties of active ingredients. Varicella vaccine is no exception and patients are advised to be fully aware of the possible unwanted outcomes of the vaccine. It is important to know all about the possible symptoms and identify the conditions, so as to be prepared to take suitable remedial measures. This will either mitigate the outcomes or prevent the effects from going out of control. Side effects are typical of three types, mild, moderate, and serious. While the mild and moderate effects are typically common in occurrence, the serious effects are relatively rare in occurrence.

The mild or moderate effects are known to resolve naturally and may not generally require any medical intervention. Only in certain circumstances, it may be necessary for some form of medical attention. The rare or serious effects may mostly require some kind of medical attention, as it may be necessary to prevent the effects from going out of control. It is also important to add here that not all users of medications or recipients of vaccine doses may experience undesirable outcomes. Some may not have any side effects whatsoever, with no impact on abilities. The following is a compilation of some of the common and rare side effects. This is neither complete, nor exhaustive in nature, and is mainly intended to serve as a broad reference for the possible side effects of the vaccine.

Frequently occurring effects

Frequently occurring effects include fever with temperatures as much as 39 degrees.  This may require to be managed symptomatically and may not require special attention unless the fever is persistent. Patients are also likely to observe a slight discoloration in the lips and the nails of the fingers; the color may appear bluish and may not be attributed to any other condition. There is the possibility of the patient experiencing pain in the chest, while some are known to end up with a cough that brings out sputum colored differently. The volume of urine passed routinely may decrease substantially, while some patients are known to have rashes on the skin that appear similar to that of chickenpox.

Other effects include a change in the manner of breathing, with some experiencing breathing that is noisy, and fast-paced. There is also the possibility of patients experiencing difficulty in breathing, wherein it is labored. The veins on the neck of some individuals may also dilate as a result of the undesirable outcome of the vaccine. The patient may be extremely tired and experience fatigue that is not attributed to any other condition. There could be a general feeling of discomfort or sickness among patients, and this needs to be checked in the event the condition is persistent. The individual may sweat profusely without any strenuous physical activity or change in temperature. Additionally, there is also the possibility of unusual irritation among individuals who have received the dose.

Discernible effects

There is the possibility of certain discernible effects and this helps to confirm the side effects. For instance, the color of the skin may turn pale in nature, while some may end up with an abnormal or unexplained increase in weight. The area around the ankles, the feet, and the fingers may swell inexplicably. The color of stools may also change and may appear black or tarry in nature. Traces of blood may be observed in the urine or stools and this is an indication of adverse effects. The patient may experience chills and certain individuals are known to be confused or disoriented mildly. Cough is another possible effect that may be experienced by individuals who have received the vaccine.

Itching on the hands or the feet is another possible outcome, and many are known to end up with hives, with typical symptoms. Pain in the muscles or the joints is another possible outcome of the vaccine’s effects. In addition to this, the individual may also witness the formation of spots on the skin that appear red in color; these spots are distinct in appearance, small, and pointed in nature. The area around the ears may turn red and patients may also experience seizures. Other effects include persistent headaches, with some individuals experiencing stiff necks.  This may or may not be accompanied by a swelling in the neck, mainly due to swollen glands. Individuals may sometimes experience bleeding or bruising that is not attributed to any other reason or injury. There is also the likelihood of the individual feeling tired or weak, with no particular reason for the fatigue. This may often develop suddenly and can also be severe in nature.

Need for caution to prevent anaphylaxis

The vaccine may result in anaphylaxis and this is a very serious condition, with possibly fatal consequences for a small number of individuals. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the nature of the reaction and identify the same from the symptoms. Caregivers, patients, and healthcare workers are to constantly lookout for rashes, difficulty in breathing, or any itching sensation in patients. The individual may experience some kind of difficulty in swallowing, and this could be an indication of the condition. Any swelling that develops on the face, the hands or the mouth after the vaccination needs to be reported immediately to a healthcare facility.

General precautions when vaccinated against varicella

Individuals who have been vaccinated against varicella are to diligently avoid aspirin or any medication with aspirin as an ingredient. This needs to be avoided for one and a half months from the time of the vaccination. Similarly, medications and formulations that contain salicylic acid are to be avoided for the same period. As the vaccine is essentially the administration of a small dose of the virus, there is every possibility that the recipient of the vaccine may transmit the actual varicella disease to unvaccinated people. The vaccine is intended to protect the individual, but as it is a contagious infection, it can be transmitted to an individual who is not vaccinated. It is, therefore, necessary for individuals to avoid close contact with others for a period of six weeks.

Certain categories of individuals are at higher risk of contracting the infection, and it is important to avoid contact, especially with these categories. Individuals with compromised immunity, or lowered immunity, such as pregnant women, and patients diagnosed with AIDS are all at higher risk. Similarly, newborn infants are at high risk of contracting the infection. All individuals desirous of taking the vaccine are to undergo a skin test to check for tuberculosis. This is often skipped by individuals with undesirable outcomes and consequences.

The vaccine is administered in two doses with a gap of one month between the two doses for adults and youngsters above the age of twelve. For children below the age of twelve, the first dose is ideally administered when the child is one year, and the second dose is given after a gap of three or four years.


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