Is The Chicken Pox Vaccine Making Shingles Rates Rise?

November 2, 2010

Dr. Mercola, over at Mercola.com, has joined with the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) for Vaccine Awareness Week, this first week of November. As a part of that week, Dr. Mercola is raising awareness about the increasing rate of shingles, and it’s probable tie to the chicken pox vaccine, developed in 1995 and recommended for mass use in 1998 (since then many states have mandated children be vaccinated).

You can read all of Dr. Mercola’s article here, along with his analyses, figures, and sources. Here’s a brief summary of his findings:

A Brief Background

Chicken pox, before the nineties, was not considered a very serious illness. When you get chicken pox, you get long lasting immunity that is increased every time you come into contact with a child who is recovering from chicken pox.

The Varicella-Zoster virus, a form of herpes that causes the chicken pox, can lay dormant in your nerves for years. If your immunity fades, or if your immune system weakens, the virus can recur, causing a painful, longer-lasting illness called shingles. (For more one Shingles, and Symptoms of Shingles, Click Here).

The chicken pox immunity boost that is gained from being around children also protects you from shingles, but with fewer children catching the virus, shingles rates have begun to rise.

Do Children Need The Chicken Pox Vaccine?

The chicken pox vaccine is less than 50% effective at preventing the illness, although those who get it are more likely to have milder symptoms. It is not thought to give the same long lasting immunity as having the chicken pox, and it is unknown whether mothers can pass that immunity (via antibodies) to their children through breast feeding (something which also depends on the length of immunity). Also keep in mind that with the advent of the vaccine parents are no longer actively trying to infect their children (as with chicken pox parties) and give them immunity, also contributing to the decline in chicken pox.

Traditionally, about 10% of children will not have contracted chicken pox and received immunity by school age, but a significant portion (over half) of that 10% will nevertheless have the antibodies that give them immunity to chicken pox. One reason for this may be they had strong immune systems, and their chicken pox manifested so slightly it was indistinguishable from the flu.

Side-effects from either chicken pox or the vaccine are both very low (a fraction of 1%), although slightly more common from the vaccine. Most people who experience complications from chicken pox are already immuno-compromised in some way, and vaccinations aren’t usually given to people whose immune systems may not be able to handle them (why vaccination of serious illnesses, such as whooping cough and polio, is necessary: it creates a bubble that protects the weak, such as children with cancer).

There is no collection of data regarding the number of immuno-compromised patients exempted from the vaccine, but with their exclusion one could suppose that the rate of complications from the chicken pox vaccine should be higher (or taken as more serious), since the (small) number of complications represents mostly healthy people who received the vaccine, rather than the number of complications from chicken pox which mainly represents people who are already sick. Further, many side-effects and complications go unreported.

A known side-effect of the chicken pox vaccine is shingles. Because of this, shingles are now appearing in children, when shingles previously was a bane of the elderly. The elderly, who already have a weakened immune system, are more likely to have complications from shingles, like nerve damage that causes permanent, severe pain. Because shingles lasts longer and is more painful, it also has higher medical costs associated with it. Without the immunity boost infected children give the elderly, any benefit of the vaccine may be outweighed in suffering and monetary cost.

How do you weigh the risks and benefits of vaccination? Do you look at vaccination for serious illnesses (polio, pertussis) differently than vaccination for illnesses with fewer complications (the flu, chicken pox)?

{ 2 trackbacks }

What Are Shingles Costing Us? — Colloids For Life Blog
October 5, 2011 at 6:13 am
How Do You Get Shingles? — Colloids For Life Blog
November 28, 2011 at 6:02 am

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