My child was invited to a chickenpox party. Would it be better for my child to get the chickenpox this way? Why do we vaccinate against a mild disease like chickenpox?
The idea of “pox parties” is generally tied to the perception of chickenpox as a harmless illness. Before the varicella vaccine became available, however, chickenpox infections required 10,000 hospitalizations and caused more than 100 deaths each year in the United States. Exposing a child to wild chickenpox puts him at risk for a severe case of the disease.
Even uncomplicated cases of chickenpox cause children to miss a week or more of school, with a caregiver missing work to care for the sick child. Natural infection also means a risk of infecting others: while successful vaccination protects a child against chickenpox without this risk, children who are infected with chickenpox naturally are contagious. They can spread the disease to other people—not just other children, but also adults, who have a higher risk of complications from the disease.
Meanwhile, vaccination for chickenpox typically prevents future infection with the disease. In the rare cases where individuals do not develop adequate protection from vaccination to prevent future infection, chickenpox infection is typically mild, results in fewer symptoms, and ends more quickly than natural infection. (People with this mild form are contagious, however, and should take care not to expose others to the virus.)