Chicken pox vaccine: Are you contagious after getting it?

Are you contagious when you first receive the chicken pox vaccine?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

You ask a very interesting question. The vaccine against chicken pox is of a type called a live attenuated vaccine. What this means is that vaccine has been chemically altered to keep it from causing the disease but is still an active virus. The advantage to this strategy of vaccine is that the body may be exposed to the vaccine in a large quantity without actually getting the disease.

However, since its original testing, it has been noted that while the vaccine does not cause the disease of chicken pox, about seven percent of children and eight percent of adolescents and adults who receive the vaccine develop a mild rash around the injection site within one month of the immunization. This rash consists of two to five lesions that look similar to chicken pox. The vaccine virus has been isolated this rash, however, there have been no reported cases of chicken pox being transmitted from healthy individuals who received the vaccine. It has been shown that the vaccine virus may be transmitted to those with leukemia, but they have either experienced no symptoms or very mild ones.

If a vaccinated person happens to be one of those seven to eight percent who develop this small rash, while that rash is present he is at risk of transmitting the vaccine virus, not the original chicken pox virus. Therefore, the current recommendations as set by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Infectious Disease state that children may still receive the vaccine even if they have household contacts who have immune system problems including HIV. If the vaccinee gets the rash, she should avoid contact with those who have immune system problems.

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