Tag: natural immunity

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

How Long Does Immunity from Vaccines Last?

Most vaccines provide long lasting protection.
Most vaccines provide long-lasting protection. Photo courtesy of Judy Schmidt and James Gathany.

One of the benefits of natural immunity is that after you get sick with a disease, you get life long immunity.

At least usually.

It is often a surprise to some people that some diseases don’t give life long immunity, most notably pertussis infections and tetanus, which typically doesn’t give any natural immunity at all.

How Long Does Immunity from Vaccines Last?

What about vaccines?

Do you get life long immunity after vaccines?

If you know about the issues of waning immunity with some vaccines, then you already know the answer. And even if you didn’t know that immunity from the mumps and pertussis vaccines can wear off, then you likely do know that you need a tetanus booster every 10 years, so that vaccine doesn’t give life long immunity.

How long is the protection from other vaccines?

  • the measles vaccine provides protection for at least 35 years
  • the hepatitis B vaccine provides protection for at least 20 years
  • the hepatitis A vaccine provides protection for at least 14 years
  • the chicken pox vaccine provides protection for at least 20 years
  • both the oral and inactivated polio vaccines provide long lasting protection
  • the rubella vaccine provides protection for at least 21 years
  • Gardasil provides protection for at least 8 years
  • the Hib vaccine provides protection for at least 9 years
  • like tetanus, the diphtheria vaccine provides protection for at about 10 years
  • the pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) provides protection for at least 5 years

Why do we say “at least” in so many cases?

In general, that’s how long these vaccines have been around. As time goes by, we will hopefully find that they last much longer.

What To Know About the Duration of Protection from Vaccines

Although some vaccines require boosters, most vaccines provide long-lasting protection.

More Information About Duration of Protection from Vaccines

SSPE and Natural Immunity from Measles

Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) is a late complication of a natural measles infection.

SSPE is universally fatal about one to two years after it is diagnosed, but symptoms don’t begin until six to eight years after the person recovers from having measles.

The small risk of SSPE is just another reason that natural immunity is riskier than getting vaccinated and protected with a vaccine.

For more information: