A new study finds that chickenpox vaccines have almost eliminated severe complications and even death in American children who are exposed to the highly contagious virus.
Before 1995, chickenpox, which is caused by varicella-zoster viruses (a type of herpesvirus), was just part of growing up. According to a Thursday analysis of national databases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that showed that new U.S. cases have decreased by 97 percent, hospitalizations have fallen by 94 percent and deaths have dropped by 99 percent since then.
According to Dr. Mona Marin (a medical epidemiologist at CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease), the chickenpox vaccine implementation was “a remarkable achievement.” According to the CDC, 90.3% of children had been vaccinated against Chickenpox by age 2.
Marin stated that the country’s high vaccination coverage has resulted in a significant drop in cases from approximately 4 million per annum to about 150,000. According to CDC estimates, the chickenpox vaccine program has saved the U.S. approximately $1 billion annually in medical costs and lost wages due to parents staying home with sick children.
Marin stated that deaths among children, which used to be as high as 150 per annum, have been “practically eliminated.” Marin said that there have been no deaths among children under 20 between 2012 and 2016.
Two doses of the chickenpox vaccine are recommended by the CDC for all ages, including children and teens who have never been infected.
The chickenpox vaccination program is “a huge success story”, said Dr. Leonard Krilov (chair of Pediatrics, NYU Langone Hospital, Long Island) and chief of the division of infectious diseases for children at the NYU Langone School of Medicine.
Krilov stated that before the vaccine, there had been between 10,000 and 13,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year. There were also 100 to 150 deaths.
Dr. Jason Zucker, an infectious diseases expert and assistant professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons stated that chickenpox is usually considered to be a mild, non-lifelong disease.
He said that the disease could be fatal for a small number of people. Remarkably, we were able to decrease the number of cases by 97 percent. This shows how effective vaccines are.
High-risk factors for the disease include pregnancy and being immunocompromised. Marin said that around 200 women who were pregnant in the pre-vaccination years were admitted to the hospital each year. Marin said that only three to four of these women were hospitalized in 2018 and 2019.
Marin stated that maternal infection can cause severe complications in babies such as blindness, deafness, and limb deformity, among other things.
There are no more shingles!
Another unexpected benefit of the large drop in chickenpox cases could be a lower risk of getting shingles.
The vaccine is still relatively new so there won’t have any data for some time. However, researchers believe that the risk of developing shingles in older adults will be significantly reduced.
The same virus can cause chickenpox and blistering shingles.
Although most cases are found in older adults, shingles can also be seen in children and teens.
Marin stated that “We have data on people up to 25 years old and we find the rate of reactivation is much lower for children and adolescents who have been immunized.” Marin stated, “So we expect the lower risk of getting shingles to eventually extend to the whole population.”
The success of the chickenpox vaccine is a story that the U.S. has pioneered, according to Dr. William Schaffner at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Our CDC advisory panel was the first to recommend widespread chickenpox vaccination,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious disease at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Schaffner was however cautious about the positive news.
He said, “We must keep vaccinating to maintain those benefits.” “Alternatives will cause the disease to return since it is still present around the globe.”