Varivax is a vaccine used for preventing chickenpox in both adults and children. It is a live vaccine, meaning it contains the living virus which has been altered in such a way as to prevent it from actually causing chickenpox. The vaccine is given as two separate doses, at least one to three months apart (depending on the age of the individual).
(Click Varivax Uses for more information on what the medication is used for, including possible off-label uses.)
Thimerosal Content and Other Concerns
People who are concerned about exposure to thimerosal (a mercury-containing preservative) can be confident that this vaccine contains no thimerosal, not even in trace amounts. Some people are concerned about aluminum content of vaccines; this vaccine contains no aluminum.
However, this vaccine is made using cell lines developed from aborted human fetuses and guinea pigs.
Who Makes Varivax?
Varivax is made by Merck & Co., Inc.
How Does Varivax Work?
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.
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.
Briggs GG, Freeman RK, Yaffe SJ. Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation. 8th ed. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Varicella vaccine -- Q&As about pregnancy (6/12/07). CDC Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/varicella/vac-faqs-clinic-preg.htm. Accessed July 29, 2009.
National Library of Medicine (US). Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMED). NLM Web site. Available at: http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/htmlgen?LACT. Accessed July 29, 2009.
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