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Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine

Date last reviewed: 
Monday, Mar 20, 2023


What is the chickenpox vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine protects against chickenpox (also known as varicella), a very contagious infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s most common in young children and is usually mild, but it can be very uncomfortable and, in some cases, can cause serious complications. Infection in teenagers, adults, and people with weakened immune systems can be more serious. 
Although rare, some people may get chickenpox even after immunization. The illness will be much milder than if they had not been immunized.

Who should get the chickenpox vaccine? 

  • Children get the chickenpox vaccine as a series of 2 doses. The first dose is given at 12 months of age and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. For children who also need protection against measles, mumps or rubella, the 2nd dose can be given as the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine.
  • Students in Grade 6 who have not had two doses of the vaccine should also get the vaccine. Most grade 6 students would have had 1 dose of the vaccine on or just after their 1st birthday and a second dose with their MMRV at 4-6 years of age. Grade 6 students who have never had the vaccine should get 2 doses at least 3 months apart.
  • The vaccine is also available as a series of 2 doses to people 13 years of age or older who have not been immunized against chickenpox.
  • People who had chickenpox before their 1st birthday should still get the vaccine. This is because they may not have developed a long-lasting immunity (protection) and could get chickenpox again.
  • People who had chickenpox or shingles disease at 1 year of age or older do not need to get the vaccine if:
    • They had the disease before 2004 or
    • The disease was confirmed by a lab test
  • The chickenpox vaccine is provided free as part of routine immunizations.
  • Although rare, some people may get chickenpox even after being immunized. The illness will be much milder than if they had not been immunized.

What are the benefits of the chickenpox vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is the best way to protect against chickenpox and its complications. When you or your child get vaccinated, you help protect others too. 

What are the side effects?

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get chickenpox.
Many people have no side effects from the vaccine. However, for those that do, common side effects may include soreness, redness, and swelling where the vaccine was given. A mild fever and a rash, which looks like chickenpox but with fewer spots, can occur about 2 weeks after the vaccine.
Very rarely, a person who develops a rash after being immunized can spread the virus from the chickenpox vaccine. To prevent spreading it to others, cover the rash until the blisters have dried and crusted over.
It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility of anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips. The chance of true anaphylaxis is about 1 in 1 million vaccine doses. Should this reaction occur, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. Learn more about anaphylaxis on our vaccine side effects page.
It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Who should not get the chickenpox vaccine?

Speak with a health care provider if you or your child:
  • Have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of chickenpox vaccine, or any part of the vaccine including neomycin or gelatin.
  • Have an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment.
  • Have had a blood transfusion or received other blood products within the past 12 months.
  • Have active untreated tuberculosis.
  • Are pregnant or planning to become pregnant. Women should avoid becoming pregnant for 1 month after getting the chicken pox vaccine.
There is no need to delay getting immunized because of a cold or other mild illness. However, if you have concerns speak with your health care provider.


About chickenpox

  • Chickenpox (varicella) is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus.
  • Chickenpox is spread through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. You can become infected when you breathe in this air or touch contaminated surfaces. It can also be spread through contact with the fluid from chickenpox blisters, or the saliva (spit) of a person who has chickenpox. A pregnant woman with chickenpox can pass it to her baby before birth.
  • Children with chickenpox have an average of 350 red, itchy blisters.
  • Infection in newborns, teenagers, adults, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems is more severe.
  • Complications from chickenpox include pneumonia (lung infection), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and bacterial infections of the skin. Encephalitis can lead to seizures, deafness or brain damage.
  • About 1 in 3,000 adults will die from chickenpox.
  • Rarely, infection early in pregnancy can result in a baby being born with birth defects. This is known as congenital varicella syndrome. Chickenpox can also cause miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • For some people, the virus can become active again later in life and cause a painful rash called shingles. For more information on shingles, visit our shingles page


Learn more


Nathan's Story

Nathan's mom shares her story about the stroke Nathan suffered after becoming infected with chickenpox.