Afew weeks ago, I stumbled across the Facebook group “Chicken Pox Parties—New York Metro Area.” It has 143 members, all of whom, I’m guessing, are parents who have chosen not to vaccinate their kids against chickenpox and instead hope to build their kids’ immunity the old-fashioned way, by directly exposing them to the germs of a pox-infected child. They are not alone: Facebook has 14 other chickenpox party groups organized by geographical region, and if you can’t get to one in person, you can always ask to be sent a lollipop with an infected child’s spit on it.
Perhaps these parents go this route because they’re distrustful of the vaccine or they think that inoculating against chickenpox is dumb. For those of us who endured chickenpox as kids and emerged relatively unscathed, the varicella vaccine, as it’s called, does at first seem kind of dumb—another unnecessary medical intervention being thrust upon us and another box to check off on the never-ending paperwork that is raising a child. So should we say no to our pediatricians and bring a pox on all our houses instead?
After evaluating the medical evidence, my answer is an emphatic no. The shot is by far the better way to go. That’s because although we might recall chickenpox as a small but annoying blip on our childhood radar it can be dangerous. True, before the vaccine was licensed in 1995, only about 100 to 150 American kids died of chickenpox every year, and most of these children had underlying immune system issues. But every year, chickenpox landed about 11,000 kids in the hospital. It’s not that they couldn’t handle all the itching; one study from Europe (where many countries do not vaccinate against chickenpox) has found that one-fifth of all otherwise healthy kids who are hospitalized for chickenpox suffer neurological problems such as strokes, meningitis, convulsions, and encephalitis. Chickenpox can also cause septic shock, pneumonia, necrotizing fasciitis (that’s flesh-eating bacteria), and other bacterial infections.
Written By: Melinda Wenner Moyer
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