Chickenpox Vaccine

The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine provides lifelong protection against chickenpox for most people. Kids should get their first dose at 12 to 15 months and their second dose at 4 to 6 years. Adults without immunity to chickenpox should get two doses at least 28 days apart. Side effects are usually mild and severe reactions are rare.


What is the chickenpox vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is a two-dose series of shots that protect you or your child from chickenpox. Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease that causes an itchy rash and can sometimes lead to complications. The vaccine prevents most people from catching chickenpox and protects against severe illness in those who do get it.

Vaccination against chickenpox protects your family and others around you. These include people who can’t receive the vaccine and face a high risk of getting very sick if they catch chickenpox. The more people who get vaccinated, the better protected we all are.

Another name for the chickenpox vaccine is the varicella vaccine. That’s because the varicella-zoster virus causes chickenpox.

What is the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine name?

Two different chickenpox vaccines are approved for use in the U.S.:

  • Varivax®. This only protects against chickenpox. It’s approved for children 12 months and older and adults.
  • ProQuad®. This is known as the MMRV vaccine. It protects against chickenpox, as well as measles, mumps and rubella. It’s approved for children 12 months through 12 years old.
Varivax vs. ProQuad — what’s the difference?

Both vaccines provide children with the same level of protection against chickenpox. ProQuad provides protection against three additional diseases, too, and offers the same protection as the MMR vaccine. But ProQuad has a slightly higher risk of causing a fever or febrile seizure as side effects when given as a first dose to children under 48 months.

For this reason, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • For the first dose in a child under 48 months old: Two separate shots (Varivax and MMR vaccine) at the same appointment.
  • For the first dose in a child 48 months through 12 years old: Either two separate shots (Varivax and MMR vaccine) or one shot (ProQuad).
  • For the second dose in a child 15 months through 12 years old: Either two separate shots (Varivax and MMR vaccine) or one shot (ProQuad).

Because the CDC recommends children get their first dose at 12 to 15 months, many kids get separate varicella and MMR shots the first time around and then a single shot for their second dose. Your healthcare provider can tell you more about these options and offer guidance.


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Procedure Details

Who should get the chickenpox vaccine?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine for children and adults who haven’t had chickenpox and haven’t been fully vaccinated. You’re fully vaccinated when you receive two doses of the chickenpox vaccine.

The chickenpox vaccine is part of the childhood immunization schedule. So, most kids in the U.S. are fully vaccinated and protected against chickenpox by around age 6.

Some adults may not be protected because they never caught chickenpox as a child and never got vaccinated. Chickenpox can make adults very sick and lead to complications. Even though chickenpox isn’t circulating as widely as it used to, it’s still out there, and it’s still possible to catch it.

So, if you’ve never been vaccinated and aren’t sure if you’ve had chickenpox, talk to a healthcare provider. They may recommend a blood test to check if you have immunity to chickenpox. If you don’t have immunity, that means you never had chickenpox and should get vaccinated. It’s especially important to have such protection as an adult if you:

  • Work in healthcare.
  • Teach in a classroom or provide childcare.
  • Live or work in a residential care facility (like a nursing home) or correctional facility.
  • Live with or care for someone with a weakened immune system.
  • Could become pregnant.
  • Live with children.
  • Are a college student.
  • Are in the military.
  • Travel internationally.

Chickenpox vaccine age

Healthcare providers recommend this chickenpox vaccine schedule for children younger than 13 years:

  • Dose 1 at age 12 to 15 months.
  • Dose 2 at age 4 to 6 years.

Your child may get the second dose sooner as long as it’s at least three months after the first dose. Your pediatrician can advise you on timing.

For adolescents and adults aged 13 or older, healthcare providers recommend getting two doses at least 28 days apart.

Who should not get the chickenpox vaccine?

Some people shouldn’t get the chickenpox vaccine due to medical conditions, medications they’re taking or other circumstances. Healthcare providers will recommend either not getting the vaccine at all or delaying it until a later date according to your circumstances.

Talk to a provider before getting the vaccine if you or your child:

  • Have a condition or take medication that affects the immune system.
  • Have a biological parent or sibling with an immune disorder.
  • Have tuberculosis.
  • Are pregnant or could be pregnant.
  • Are taking salicylates (like aspirin), steroids (like prednisone) or acyclovir.
  • Have cancer.
  • Recently received blood products, such as immune globulin.
  • Received another live virus vaccine within the past 28 days.
  • Had an allergic reaction to a varicella vaccine or any of its ingredients in the past.
  • Have any severe allergies.

Your provider will talk to you about the situation and advise you on what to do.

People with evidence of immunity

People who have evidence of immunity against chickenpox are already protected from infection and don’t need the vaccine. Evidence of immunity can include:

  • A healthcare provider’s verification that you’ve had chickenpox or shingles.
  • Documentation of prior vaccination.
  • Blood test results that show you have immunity.
  • A date of birth prior to 1980 (this only counts in certain situations and your healthcare provider can tell you more).


How do you get the chickenpox vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is an injection you receive from a healthcare provider. A provider will clean your skin with an alcohol swab. They’ll then give you a shot (inoculation) into the innermost layer of your skin (hypodermis). This is called a subcutaneous shot. It’s different from an intramuscular shot, which your provider injects into your muscle.

Your provider will tell you when you need to return for your second dose. This depends on your age. Children 12 years and younger need at least three months between doses, and kids following the recommended schedule would have a gap of about three to five years. People 13 years and older need a gap of at least 28 days.

Risks / Benefits

What are the potential benefits of this treatment?

The chickenpox vaccine:

  • Prevents most people from getting chickenpox.
  • Makes chickenpox milder in people who do get it.
  • Lowers a person’s risk of developing shingles later in life, compared with people who had a chickenpox infection.


What are the varicella vaccine risks and side effects?

The varicella vaccine is generally very safe. But like all vaccines and medications, there’s a possibility of side effects. Side effects of the chickenpox vaccine are usually mild and include:

Rarely, more serious side effects can occur, including:

  • Severe rash.
  • Lung or liver infections.
  • Meningitis.
  • Febrile seizures.
  • Severe infection.

It’s rare but possible for any vaccine to cause a severe allergic reaction. Call 911 or your local emergency number if you or your child have any of the following symptoms of a severe allergic reaction:

Recovery and Outlook

How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?

The chickenpox vaccine is very effective. Two doses provide lifelong protection against infection for most people.

Can you get chickenpox if vaccinated?

There’s a small chance (but still a chance) that you can get chickenpox if you’ve been vaccinated. Healthcare providers call this breakthrough varicella. A breakthrough infection is usually mild if you received two doses of the vaccine (you’re fully vaccinated).

If you only received one dose of the vaccine, you may have symptoms that resemble those of unvaccinated people. You’re also more likely to get a breakthrough infection compared with people who are fully vaccinated. 

When To Call the Doctor

When should I call my healthcare provider?

It’s common to have questions or concerns about any form of medical care, including vaccines. Don’t hesitate to talk to your healthcare provider about anything that’s on your mind. They have access to current and credible research and can help you get the information you need.

For example, call your healthcare provider if you:

  • Aren’t sure if you or your child need the vaccine.
  • Aren’t sure if you or your child are fully vaccinated.
  • Have questions about the vaccine’s safety for you or your child.
  • Have questions about the vaccine schedule.
  • Want to learn more about the benefits and risks of the varicella vaccine.

Additional Common Questions

When did the chickenpox vaccine come out?

The chickenpox vaccine came out in the U.S. in 1995. In the early 1990s, about 4 million people (mostly kids) came down with chickenpox each year. Of those, up to 13,500 needed care at a hospital, and up to 150 died each year.

The vaccine drastically improved the situation. Experts estimate that from 1995 to 2019, hospitalizations dropped by 94% and deaths dropped by 97% among people aged 50 and younger. They also estimate that during this time period, vaccines prevented 91 million cases of chickenpox, 238,000 hospitalizations and nearly 2,000 deaths.

Is varicella a live vaccine?

Yes. Both varicella vaccines (Varivax and ProQuad) are live, attenuated vaccines. This type of vaccine uses an attenuated, or weakened virus, to stimulate an immune response.

Researchers start with a “wild” virus, or a virus that exists out in the world, and weaken it in a lab. This process transforms the virus so it’s typically not strong enough to make you sick but spurs an immune response.

Live vaccines like varicella may not be appropriate for some people, including those with weakened immune systems. Your healthcare provider can tell you more about which vaccines you should get in your unique situation.

Is there a varicella vaccine for adults?

Yes. The Varivax vaccine is approved for adults. This protects you against varicella (chickenpox). It doesn’t include protection against measles, mumps and rubella. If you also need protection from these diseases, you’ll get a separate MMR vaccine. ProQuad, the combination MMRV vaccine, isn’t approved for people 13 years or older.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The chickenpox vaccine is routine for most kids today. As a parent, it’s common to worry about the medications and vaccines your child receives. You can take comfort in knowing researchers have studied this vaccine for many years. They know it’s safe and has a low risk of serious reactions. Your pediatrician can tell you more and answer any of your questions.

This vaccine is also important for many adults. If you’re not excited to roll up your sleeve for a shot, you’re not alone. But adults who haven’t had chickenpox are at risk of serious illness if they catch it later in life. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have any doubt about whether you’re protected against chickenpox.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/12/2024.

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