Is the Chicken Pox Vaccine Creating a Shingles Epidemic?

Once upon a time, with no treatment or vaccine, families would just be quarantined when they had chicken pox.
Once upon a time, with no treatment or vaccine, families would just be quarantined when they had chicken pox. Photo by Howard Liberman.

Shingles is a reactivation of a past chicken pox infection, so both are caused by the same varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

While chicken pox rates are decreasing, as more and more children are vaccinated and protected with the chicken pox vaccine, it is true that we are seeing a rise in shingles cases.

Is the Chicken Pox Vaccine Creating a Shingles Epidemic?

There is actually a plausible theory for why routine use of the chicken pox vaccine could cause a rise in shingles cases in adults.

“Some experts suggest that exposure to varicella boosts a person’s immunity to VZV and reduces the risk for VZV reactivation. Thus, they are concerned that routine childhood varicella vaccination, recommended in the United States in 1996, could lead to an increase in herpes zoster in adults due to reduced opportunities for being exposed to varicella. ”

CDC – Shingles Clinical Overview

And that is why some countries, like the UK, haven’t added the chicken pox vaccine to their routine immunization schedule yet.

There are problems with that theory though, including that:

  • we started seeing a rise in rates of shingles in the US before we even started giving the chicken pox vaccine
  • the rise in shingles cases did not increase after we started giving the chicken pox vaccine
  • other countries that do not routinely give the chicken pox vaccine, like the UK, are seeing  similar trends and increases in shingles cases

So while anti-vaccine folks continue to blame the chicken pox vaccine for a rise in shingles, it has been proven again and again that the chicken pox vaccine is not creating a shingles epidemic.

“Among children aged <10 years during 2000-2006, those with a history of varicella vaccination had a 4 to 12 times lower risk for developing herpes zoster compared with children with history of varicella disease.”

Varicella Active Surveillance Project

If anything, since vaccinated children are thought to have a lower risk of shingles than those with natural immunity, it will hopefully lead to a decrease in cases of shingles in the future.

What To Know About The Chicken Pox Vaccine and Shingles Trends

The chicken pox vaccine is not creating a shingles epidemic and will likely help kids be at less risk of shingles later in life as compared to those with natural immunity.

More Information on Trends of Shingles and Chicken Pox

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