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Is it true that children are better off getting chicken pox than the vaccine?

Is it true that children are better off getting chicken pox than the vaccine?

No. Catching the live virus can cause serious complications, leading to hospitalization and even death. On the other hand, getting the varicella vaccine, which contains a weakened form of the virus, increases immunity to chicken pox and helps prevent serious illness.

Before a vaccine was available, there were about 4 million cases of chicken pox a year, with up to 13,000 cases requiring hospitalization and 100 to 150 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Thanks to the vaccine, hospitalization and death rates have dropped dramatically.

Here are other reasons why medical experts – including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC – say your child is much better off getting the chicken pox vaccination than risking the disease:

  • Symptoms are uncomfortable. The fever, fatigue, and itchy, painful blisters are no fun. The blisters may leave permanent scars, and your child will need antibiotics if they get infected.
  • Complications. Even if your child is otherwise healthy, it's possible for him to develop complications like pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), or a dangerous "flesh-eating" bacterial skin infection.
  • Time off school. Coming down with the chicken pox means your child will probably be out of school or daycare for a week or more, until your child is no longer contagious and the rash has crusted over.
  • The vaccine is very effective. According to the CDC, the shot is about 98 percent effective when given in two doses – which means a few vaccinated children will still get chicken pox. But kids who get chicken pox after being vaccinated will have milder symptoms, fewer blisters, a lower fever, and a quicker recovery.
  • Protection against shingles. The vaccine may help protect your child from a bad case of shingles later in life. (This disease is related to chicken pox, and it affects about 1 million adults in America every year.)
  • Long-lasting protection. A study of more than 7,500 children published in the journal Pediatrics in 2013 found that the chicken pox vaccine was effective for at least 14 years.
  • Protection for others. The chicken pox vaccine protects not only your child, but also others in your community. This is especially important for people who can't be vaccinated, including babies younger than 1, people with a weakened immune system, and pregnant women.

So consider carefully before you accept an invitation for your child to attend a "chicken pox party." As the AAP points out, it's impossible to predict which child will get a mild case of chicken pox and which child will have life-threatening complications. Although "natural" immunity is stronger than "vaccine-induced immunity," the risk of the illness just isn't worth it when a safe, effective vaccine is available.

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