If you have had chicken pox, there is a chance you may get shingles later in life. Chicken pox and shingles are both fairly common diseases that strike a great percentage of the population, and, while chicken pox can generally be harmless to the children, it can have detrimental effects on the health of the adults. Shingles, on the other hand, is more common in adults, and the person with a shingles rash can transmit the virus to a healthy person who has never had chicken pox and cause the disease in them.
Naturally, preventing both diseases is on the top of the list, and even though there is a myriad of ways of prevention, is one of them chicken pox vaccine?
Chickenpox vaccine and shingles
Since the varicella zoster virus causes both chicken pox and shingles, the experts say that the vaccine for chicken pox is not in any way linked to the rising occurrence of shingles in some parts of the United States. The fact that these two diseases are so intertwined, it is no wonder that the people wonder whether the chicken pox vaccine will actually have an effect on the possible occurrence of shingles later in life.
According to Dr. William Schaffner, a doctor of preventative medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and an infectious disease expert of the highest ranks, children who have received a chicken pox vaccine have a lower risk of getting shingles later in life than those who had not received the vaccine. Dr. Schaffner says that there is a very low possibility that the children who have received a chicken pox vaccine will get shingles, however, this is due to the fact that, as with any vaccine, the one for chicken pox contains a weakened version of the varicella zoster virus. As we know, people get shingles when the virus that laid dormant in their bodies years after they have had chickenpox reactivates. Schaffner says that almost 99 percent of children who do receive the vaccine will not develop chicken pox, and the remaining one percent will maybe get a milder version of the disease, which also results in a slight possibility of them getting the shingles.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 percent of shingles cases happens to people of over 60 years of age. This makes perfect sense since the dormant virus usually “wakes up” after our immune systems become weak, whether it be due to illness or age. When people pass a certain age point, their whole bodies start to decay slowly, and that includes the immune system as well.
Therefore, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, also known as CDC, recommends that children get two doses of vaccine for chicken pox. The first dose should be administered at 12 or 15 months and the second one between the ages 4 and 6.
Statistics show that before the vaccine for chicken pox was introduced back in 1995, 4 million people more or less, mostly children, have contracted the disease in the United States. But, since the introduction of the vaccine, that number has dropped by more than 90 percent.
However, it is quite interesting that, even though the number of cases of chicken pox has definitely plummeted, the shingles rates have risen, and are still rising, according to Dr. Schaffner. He reports that the United States does not keep data on the national level on shingles, as doctors do not have to report each and every case of this disease. So, if the chicken pox rates are declining, how come there are more cases of shingles?
Why Do Shingles Rates Rise?
We have to take into account several factors that may be the reason for the rising number of shingles cases each year. First of all, people now live way longer than they did before, and therefore they have more opportunities to get shingles. As we know, as we get older our immune system becomes weaker and therefore more prone to a disease, and, since we do live longer, we have a higher chance of contracting another disease that will weaken our immune systems, which is a devil’s playground for the dormant varicella-zoster virus.
However, Dr. Schaffner says that the rise in the cases of shingles is not due to the chicken pox vaccine. He says that the adults who are getting shingles nowadays, get them because of the dormant varicella-zoster virus that resides in their bodies ever since the time they were children infected with chicken pox. The shingles do not appear because of the vaccine, as these people did not receive one since the vaccine did not exist when they were 12 to 15 months old.
There is an ongoing debate between the anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine sides about the effects of the chickenpox vaccine on children and adults. While the anti-vaccine people believe that vaccinating children against chickenpox will rise the shingles cases in adults for the next 20 years! This, of course, is preposterous. Scientists spend years researching any vaccine before it hits the market and they do take into account every possible side effect it may have on the person who receives it and the overall population.
A study conducted by the scientists Benson Ogunjimi, Lander Willem, Philipe Beutels, and Niel Hens, from the University of Antwerp and Hasselt in Belgium, published in the journal eLife, shows that the temporary rise in shingles cases in adults after the vaccination of one-year-old children, will most likely happen in adults of 31 to 40 years of age. However, the published article also shows that the effect will last only two years, and not twenty as anti-vaccine people like to claim.
Vaccination against chickenpox is recommended and required in a lot of countries, including the USA, Germany, Australia, Japan, Greece, Italy, and a few others. If this trend continues, more and more countries will require vaccination, and soon enough we will not have to worry about chickenpox or shingles ever again.
How, you might ask. Very simple. As more and more children become vaccinated against chickenpox, the number of adults that are at risk of shingles will also decline slowly. Once the first generation of immunized children reaches adulthood, they do not have to worry about shingles ever again, although some may need boosters against chickenpox in order not to get infected by children who were not vaccinated, if their immunity systems weaken. Then, these immunized adults will vaccinate their children, and so in relatively short time, the whole population could forget what chickenpox and shingles are since they will not occur again.