Chickenpox (also known as varicella) is a very contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. You can protect your child from chickenpox with a vaccine.
Who should get the chickenpox vaccine?
- Children should get 2 shots for chickenpox: the first when they are 12 to 15 months old and a second “booster” shot when they are 4 to 6 years old (before they start school). In some provinces/territories, the second dose is given at 18 months old.
- Children who have had chickenpox before one year of age may not stay immune and should receive the vaccine at the recommended times indicated above.
- People who have had chickenpox after they are 1 year of age do not need to get the vaccine. But if they do get the vaccine, it will not hurt them.
- Teens and adults up to age 50 who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine should get 2 shots, given at least 6 weeks apart.
- Women planning for pregnancy who have not had chickenpox or the vaccine should receive the 2 shots at least 4 weeks before getting pregnant.
How safe is the chickenpox vaccine?
It is very safe.
- There may be some redness, swelling, itching or pain where the needle went into the arm or leg, usually 5-23 days after vaccination. This is not dangerous and will only last a day or two.
- Some people may have a fever 5-12 days after vaccination. Parents should NOT give their child ibuprofen or acetaminophen before or shortly after vaccination since it could have an impact on how well the vaccine works. Wait at least 6 hours post-vaccination for pain or fever relief.
- A few people will get a very mild case of a chickenpox-like rash (usually no more than 10 spots) 1 or 2 weeks after they get the vaccine.
Who should NOT have the chickenpox vaccine?
- Babies less than 1 year old.
- People with weak immune systems and/or people who are taking drugs to suppress their immune system.
- Pregnant women. However, if you get the vaccine before you know you are pregnant, your baby will almost certainly be fine.
- People who have had a serious allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine (swelling of the face or lips, difficulty breathing or blood pressure dropping) should not get it again unless seen by a specialist and vaccinated in a special clinic that can control serious reactions.
Where can I get the vaccine for my child?
Talk to your doctor about the vaccine. In some provinces, the chickenpox vaccine is given by itself; in others it is combined with the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. This combination vaccine is called MMRV. The first dose is covered by all provincial and territorial health plans, but in some places you may have to pay for the booster dose.
For complete information on vaccinations in Canada, read Your Child’s Best Shot: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination.
More information from the CPS:
Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
- Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Last Updated: July 2015