Chickenpox, or Varicella zoster, is a common childhood disease that can result in fairly serious complications such as encephalitis, pneumonia, sepsis, hemorrhagic varicella, and death. Individuals at especially high risk from complications from varicella are immunocompromised, usually from some sort of immunodeficiency or immunosuppression (usually pharmaceutical treatments for cancers or autoimmune diseases). For immunocompromised individuals, it is important that any individuals around them should be vaccinated against common childhood diseases, whether chickenpox or other diseases (mumps, rubella, etc.), because the chances of transmitting these diseases is extremely high and the risk of complications are serious.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a 3 year old Minnesota girl, who was receiving immunosuppressive therapy for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, was admitted to a hospital after 2 days of a high fever of 102.7°F (39.3°C) and extensive rash, including in her mouth and throat. Neither she nor her younger sibling received the first dose of varicella vaccine (recommended at 12-15 months) because their parents refused the vaccinations as a result of personal beliefs. The child eventually recovered as a result of treatment with intravenous acyclovir (which has more serious potential side effects than the imagined ones for the vaccine).
Implementation of the varicella vaccination program in the United States, beginning in 1995 ,has led to declines of >95% in varicella-related hospitalizations and deaths among populations routinely vaccinated. Varicella vaccination is not recommended for children with congenital or acquired T-lymphocyte immunodeficiency (except certain categories of human immunodeficiency virus–infected children), including children receiving long-term immunosuppressive therapy, because of risk for complications from live vaccine virus infection. However, these patients are at high risk for severe or fatal varicella and depend on indirect protection through high levels of varicella immunity among the general population, and especially among their close contacts, to prevent exposure. Varicella vaccination of household contacts of immunocompromised patients is recommended if contacts lack evidence of varicella immunity.
The parents of this child are being completely illogical to me. They accept modern medicine to treat their child’s arthritis with the use of a very harsh drug, methotrexate, which has some significant adverse effects that are reported in real peer-reviewed literature. However, the benefits to the patient far outweigh the real risks. Yet, they nearly lost her because they irrationally refuse to vaccinate their “healthy” child against a common disease that might have killed their other daughter solely because of imagined adverse effects of vaccines. Seriously? This was their decision? Because varicella is not the only disease, it’s mumps, rubella, measles, HiB, hepatitis A&B, pertussis, tetanus, diphtheria, and others. Their daughter is at risk for each of these diseases, all of which have serious consequences for a young child.
Vaccines Save Lives. And in this case, it’s a no brainer, it is going to save the life of this girl.