The chickenpox vaccine protects against the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox.
The chickenpox vaccine is not part of the routine childhood vaccination schedule.
It is currently only offered on the NHS to people who are in close contact with someone who is particularly vulnerable to chickenpox or its complications.
There are two chickenpox vaccines currently available. The brand names of the chickenpox vaccine are VARIVAX and VARILRIX.
Who is at risk from chickenpox?
Chickenpox is a common childhood infection. Usually, it's mild and complications are rare. Almost all children develop immunity to chickenpox after infection, so most only catch it once. The disease can be more severe in adults.
Certain groups of people, however, are at greater risk of serious complications from chickenpox. These include:
- people who have weakened immune systems through illnesses such as HIV or treatments like chemotherapy
- pregnant women – chickenpox can be very serious for an unborn baby when a pregnant woman catches the infection. It can cause a range of serious birth defects, as well as severe disease in the baby when it is born. Read more about what to do if you catch or are exposed to chickenpox in pregnancy
Who should have the chickenpox vaccine?
It is recommended for certain individuals, such as:
- non-immune healthcare workers
- people who come into close contact with someone who has a weakened immune system
This is to lower the chances of infecting people at risk. For example, if you're having chemotherapy treatment, it's advisable that non-immune children close to you are given the chickenpox vaccine.
The vaccine would also be recommended if you were about to start work in a radiotherapy department and had not had chickenpox before.
Read more about who should have the chickenpox vaccine.
How the chickenpox vaccine works
The chickenpox vaccine is a live vaccine and contains a small amount of weakened chickenpox-causing virus.
The vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies that will help protect against chickenpox.
Read more about live vaccines.
Read more about chickenpox vaccine side effects.
How is the chickenpox vaccine given?
The vaccine is given as two separate injections, usually into the upper arm, four to eight weeks apart.
How effective is the chickenpox vaccine?
It's been shown that 9 out of 10 children vaccinated with a single dose will develop immunity against chickenpox. Two doses are recommended, as this gives an even better immune response.
The vaccination is not quite as effective after childhood. It's estimated that three-quarters of teenagers and adults who are vaccinated will become immune to chickenpox.
Read answers to common questions about the chickenpox vaccine.
Page last reviewed: 13/03/2016
Next review due: 13/03/2019