Simply stated, Varivax "tricks" the body into thinking it has been exposed to chickenpox. The body produces antibodies that will help fight the virus if future exposure occurs.
This vaccine is a live attenuated vaccine. This means that it contains the living virus which has been altered in such a way as to prevent it from actually causing disease. However, the body's immune system still responds to it, providing future protection from the disease.
In general, live vaccines provide better protection from infections (compared to other types of vaccines) but can, in rare cases, actually cause the disease, particularly in people who have very weakened immune systems.
Off-Label Uses for Varivax
On occasion, your healthcare provider may recommend Varivax for something other than the uses discussed in this article. This would be known as an "off-label" use. At this time, using Varivax to prevent chickenpox (or reduce the severity) in people who have recently been exposed to chickenpox (within the past three to five days) is an off-label use.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Vaccine information statement: chickenpox vaccine (3/18/08). CDC Web site. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-varicella.pdf. Accessed July 29, 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Varicella vaccine Q&A (6/22/07). CDC Web site. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/varicella/vac-faqs-clinic.htm. Accessed July 29, 2009
Civen R, Chaves SS, Jumaan A, et al. The incidence and clinical characteristics of herpes zoster among children and adolescents after implementation of varicella vaccination. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2009. [Epub ahead of print].
Goldman GS. Universal varicella vaccination: efficacy trends and effect on herpes zoster. Int J Toxicol 2005 ;24(4):205-13.
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