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What is chickenpox?

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus. Symptoms include an itchy, blister-like rash over the entire body. The disease is highly contagious and spreads through direct or airborne contact with the virus.

Read more about chickenpox and how it affects people on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

Chickenpox illness lasts about 4 to 7 days and has the following symptoms:

  • Full body rash that starts on the chest, back, and face
  • Blistering or scabbing
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache

Who is at risk?

Babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant people and people with weakened immune systems are at risk for serious or life-threatening illness.

Limit the spread of chickenpox

Chickenpox is incredibly contagious. If possible, avoid people who have chickenpox and avoid close contact with them. Vaccination is over 99% effective at preventing chickenpox illness.

Chickenpox (Varicella) Vaccine

When do people get the chickenpox vaccine?

People who have never been vaccinated should get the chickenpox vaccine.

In children, one dose of vaccine should be given at the following ages:

  • The first dose at 12 to 15 months of age.
  • The second dose at 4 to 6 years of age.

Older children and adults need 2 doses of chickenpox vaccine if they have not been vaccinated or are not immune to chickenpox.

People may get vaccinated after chickenpox exposure to prevent or reduce illness. Medicine is also available for those who cannot be vaccinated to reduce illness.

People who have weakened immune systems should not get the chickenpox vaccine.

What are the side effects of the chickenpox vaccine?

Most people experience minor or no side effects. The most common side effects of chickenpox vaccine include:

  • Sore arm, redness, or rash where the shot was given
  • Fever
  • Allergic reaction (rarely)

This vaccine is continually monitored for safety. The benefits and side effects of this vaccine outweigh the risk of getting chickenpox.

Why is the chickenpox vaccine important?

Getting chickenpox vaccine is over 99% effective at preventing the disease.

In breakthrough cases where a vaccinated person gets chickenpox, people have milder symptoms such as less blistering, mild or no fever, and a shorter period of illness.

Getting vaccinated protects yourself, your family, and others in the community. This protects people who can’t get vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems, infants, and pregnant people.

Before vaccination was available, this disease made over 4 million people sick a year. This vaccine has reduced disease cases by over 97%. In 2017, there were only 8,297 cases of chickenpox reported.

Even with fewer cases, vaccines are still important because the United States still has outbreaks of disease in unvaccinated populations.

Vaccine Information Statement and Resources

The Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) is given to parents/guardians at the time of vaccination. It explains the benefits and risks of the specific vaccination.

Read the current Varicella VIS from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Additional resources for the public

Chickenpox (Varicella) (CDC)

Additional resources for health care providers

Childhood Vaccine Program

The Washington State Childhood Vaccination Program provides vaccines to children 18 years of age and younger at no cost. Chickenpox vaccine is included in this program.

View participating health care providers on the Department of Health’s Vaccine Provider Map.

Chickenpox Vaccine Requirement for Schools

Chickenpox vaccine is required for childcare and school entry in the state of Washington. Learn more about school and child care immunization requirements by visiting the family friendly school immunization requirements web page.