Precautions and Warnings With the Varicella Vaccine
There are many warnings and precautions with the varicella vaccine that you should be aware of before getting vaccinated. Although the vaccine is quite effective, it is not known how long it provides protection from chickenpox. The varicella vaccine may not be suitable for everyone; you should not get vaccinated if you are pregnant, have an immune-suppressing condition, or have leukemia.
What Should I Tell My Healthcare Provider Before Getting the Varicella Vaccine?
You should talk with your healthcare provider prior to receiving the varicella vaccine (Varivax®) if you have:
- An immune-suppressing condition such as HIV or AIDS, diabetes, or cancer
- Had any sort of a reaction to any vaccine in the past
- Febrile seizures
- An illness or infection (such as the flu)
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- A fever
- Active, untreated tuberculosis
- Any allergies, including allergies to foods, dyes, or preservatives.
Also, let your healthcare provider know if you are:
- Pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant
Make sure to tell your healthcare provider about any medications you are taking, including prescription and non-prescription medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements.
Specific Varicella Vaccine Warnings and Precautions
Warnings and precautions to be aware of prior to getting vaccinated include the following:
- Rarely, life-threatening allergic reactions to the varicella vaccine may occur. Your healthcare provider should be prepared to handle such emergencies before giving this vaccine.
- It is unknown how long this vaccine provides protection from chickenpox or if a booster will be necessary.
- Care must be taken when giving any intramuscular injection (including the varicella vaccine) to individuals with bleeding disorders or who are taking anticoagulant medications ("blood thinners"). In some cases, your healthcare provider may decide that the risk of the injection is not worth the benefit.
- The varicella vaccine should never be given intravenously (into a vein). It is meant to be injected just under the skin (subcutaneously).
- Febrile seizures (seizures associated with high fevers in young children) have been associated with vaccines. If your child has a tendency to get febrile seizures, ask your healthcare provider if you should give an anti-fever medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) to help avoid febrile seizures.
- Your child can receive the varicella vaccine if he or she has a mild illness (such as the common cold). However, it is usually best to postpone the vaccine in the case of a moderate or severe illness.
- Make sure your healthcare provider knows if you have ever had any serious reactions to any vaccines in the past. For adults, it is probably a good idea to ask your parents or other caregivers if you had any problems with your childhood vaccinations.
- If you have an immune-suppressing condition, the varicella vaccine may not be as effective as usual for protection against chickenpox. More importantly, though, the vaccine might actually cause chickenpox in such individuals.
- People who are concerned about exposure to thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative) can be confident that this vaccine contains no thimerosal, not even in trace amounts. Some people are concerned about aluminum content of vaccines; this vaccine contains no aluminum.
- This vaccine is made using cell lines developed from aborted human fetuses and guinea pigs.
- Sometimes, people develop a mild chickenpox-like rash after this vaccine. People with such a rash could potentially spread the vaccine virus to others. This is mostly a concern for people with close contact with the following groups of people:
- Immunosuppressed individuals
- Pregnant women who have never had chickenpox (or this vaccine)
- Newborns born to mothers who have never had chickenpox (or this vaccine).
Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before getting this vaccine if you will have close contact with such individuals. In many cases, vaccination is still recommended, since vaccination of close contacts may be the best way to protect such individuals.
- Varicella vaccine can potentially interact with a few other medications (see Drug Interactions With the Varicella Vaccine).
- Varicella vaccine is considered a pregnancy Category C medication. This means it is unknown if it is safe for use during pregnancy. This vaccine is generally not recommended for pregnant women, and pregnancy should be avoided for one to three months after receiving this vaccine (see Varivax and Pregnancy).
- It is generally considered safe for breastfeeding women to receive this vaccine (see Varivax and Breastfeeding).