Danger in skipping chickenpox vaccine

Study: Risk of serious chickenpox nine times higher for kids whose parents refuse vaccinations.

Thomas H. Maugh II

Tribune Newspapers

January 7, 2010


Children whose parents refuse to let them be vaccinated for chickenpox are nine times as likely as vaccinated children to develop chickenpox that requires medical attention, researchers say.

Although the conclusion may seem self-evident, it reflects a growing problem with childhood immunizations, said epidemiologist Jason Glanz of Kaiser Permanente's Institute for Health Research in Denver, lead author of the report published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Immunizations have been so successful, he said, that some parents are more concerned about risks of vaccines than about the illness. "Vaccines are becoming victims of their own success," Glanz said.

The results "are in line with what is known about vaccine refusal for other diseases," said Dr. Tracy Lieu of Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study.

The vaccine for chickenpox, varicella, is one parents are most likely to skip because they believe the disease is the least serious preventable childhood illness.

"The common perception among parents is that they don't believe chickenpox is a serious illness, and they don't believe their children are at risk," Glanz concluded. "This study shows that they are wrong on both counts."

Chickenpox is characterized by a high fever, an itchy rash, red spots or blisters and malaise. It also renders children more susceptible to other infections and can leave permanent scarring.

Complications can be especially severe in children with compromised immune systems due to AIDS, certain other diseases and post-transplant treatments.

Glanz and his colleagues studied the electronic health records of 86,993 children, ages 1 through 8.