Varicella virus vaccine is an active immunizing agent that is given to protect against infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The vaccine works by causing the body to produce its own protection (antibodies) against the virus.
Varicella (commonly known as chickenpox) is an infection that is easily spread from one person to another. Chickenpox is usually a mild infection but sometimes it can cause serious problems, such as pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, and a rare disease called Reye's syndrome.
Immunization against chickenpox is recommended for anyone 12 months of age and older who has not had chickenpox. Immunization against chickenpox is not recommended for infants younger than 12 months of age.
You can be considered to be immune to chickenpox only if you have received the right number of varicella vaccine doses (1 dose if you are between 12 months and 12 years of age; or 2 doses if you are 13 years of age or older). You also are considered to be immune if you have a doctor's diagnosis of a previous chickenpox infection or if you have had a blood test showing that you are immune to varicella.
Varicella virus vaccine (Zostavax®) is also used for the prevention of herpes zoster (commonly known as shingles) in people 50 years of age and older.
This vaccine is to be administered only by or under the supervision of your doctor or other authorized health care professional. This product is available in the following dosage forms: Powder for Solution.
2 What to Know Before Using
Before using Varicella virus vaccine, you must know all about the risks and complications associated with it. This is a decision you and your doctor will make.
For this vaccine, the following should be considered:
Allergies: Tell your doctor if you have ever had any unusual or allergic reaction to this medicine or any other medicines. Also tell your health care professional if you have any other types of allergies, such as to foods, dyes, preservatives, or animals. For non-prescription products, read the label or package ingredients carefully.
Pediatric Population: Varivax® (for preventing chickenpox)—Appropriate studies performed to date have not demonstrated pediatric-specific problems that would limit the usefulness of varicella virus vaccine in children 1 year of age and older. However, varicella virus vaccine is not recommended for infants younger than 12 months of age.
Zostavax® (for preventing shingles)—This vaccine should not be used in children.
Geriatric Population: Appropriate studies performed to date have not demonstrated geriatric-specific problems that would limit the usefulness of varicella virus vaccine in the elderly.
Pregnancy: All Trimesters: Category C: Animal studies have shown an adverse effect and there are no adequate studies in pregnant women OR no animal studies have been conducted and there are no adequate studies in pregnant women.
Breastfeeding: Studies in women suggest that this medication poses minimal risk to the infant when used during breastfeeding.
Drug Interactions: Although certain medicines should not be used together at all, in other cases two different medicines may be used together even if an interaction might occur. In these cases, your doctor may want to change the dose or other precautions may be necessary.
When you are receiving this vaccine, it is especially important that your healthcare professional know if you are taking any of the medicines listed below. The following interactions have been selected on the basis of their potential significance and are not necessarily all-inclusive.
Receiving this vaccine with any of the following medicines is not recommended. Your doctor may decide not to use this vaccine or change some of the other medicines you take.
Receiving this vaccine with any of the following medicines is usually not recommended, but may be required in some cases. If both medicines are prescribed together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use one or both of the medicines.
Receiving this vaccine with any of the following medicines may cause an increased risk of certain side effects, but using both drugs may be the best treatment for you. If both medicines are prescribed together, your doctor may change the dose or how often you use one or both of the medicines.
Other Interactions: Certain medicines should not be used at or around the time of eating food or eating certain types of food since interactions may occur. Using alcohol or tobacco with certain medicines may also cause interactions to occur. Discuss with your healthcare professional the use of your medicine with food, alcohol, or tobacco.
Other Medical Problems: The presence of other medical problems may affect the use of this vaccine.
Make sure you tell your doctor if you have any other medical problems, especially:
Proper usage of Varicella virus vaccine requires strict adherence to your doctor’s orders. A nurse or other trained health professional will give you or your child this vaccine. This vaccine is given as a shot under your skin (usually in the upper arms).
Children 12 months to 12 years of age may need a second shot within 3 months after receiving the first dose of Varivax®. Teenagers and adults should have a "booster" shot 4 to 8 weeks after the first dose of this vaccine.
Adults receiving Zostavax® should receive only one dose of the vaccine unless your doctor tells you otherwise. This vaccine comes with a patient information insert.
Make sure you understand all of the information in the insert. Ask your doctor if you have any questions. Tell your doctor before receiving this vaccine if you are severely ill or if you have a fever greater than 101.3 °F.
This vaccine needs to be given on a fixed schedule. If you or your child missed the scheduled dose, call your doctor or your child’s doctor for another appointment as soon as possible.
4 Precautions to Take
Before using Varicella virus vaccine, there are some precautions you must take. It is very important that you or your child return to your doctor’s office at the right time if you or your child needs a second dose of the vaccine. Be sure to notify your doctor of any side effects that occur after your child receive this vaccine.
Do not become pregnant for 3 months after receiving varicella virus vaccine without first checking with your doctor. There is a chance that this vaccine may cause problems during pregnancy. If you think you have become pregnant, tell your doctor right away. Your doctor may want you to join a pregnancy registry for patients receiving this vaccine.
Zostavax® should not be used in place of Varivax®. Zostavax® should not be used in children.
Tell your doctor that you or your child have received this vaccine:
If you are to receive blood transfusions or other blood products within 5 months of receiving this vaccine.
If you are to receive varicella-zoster immune globulin (VZIG) or other immune globulins within 2 months after receiving this vaccine.
If you are to receive any other live virus vaccines within 1 month of receiving this vaccine.
This vaccine may cause serious types of allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Call your doctor right away if you have a rash; itching; hoarseness; trouble breathing; trouble swallowing; or any swelling of your hands, face, or mouth after you receive the vaccine.
Do not take aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin (such as certain cold medicines) for 6 weeks after receiving this vaccine. Carefully check the label of any pain, headache, or cold medicine you or your child use to be sure it does not contain aspirin or salicylic acid.
You or your child may be able to pass the virus to other people after getting this vaccine. You or your child should avoid close contact with people at high risk for getting chickenpox for 6 weeks after receiving this vaccine.
People who are most at risk of catching the virus from you are pregnant women, newborn babies, and people whose bodies cannot fight infection (such as with bone marrow disease, cancer drug treatment, or AIDS). Talk to your doctor about this risk.
Do not take other medicines unless they have been discussed with your doctor. This includes prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter [OTC]) medicines and herbal or vitamin supplements.
5 Potential Side Effects
As with many medications, there are several potential side effects associated with Varicella virus vaccine. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.
Check with your doctor or nurse immediately if any of the following side effects occur:
Other side effects not listed may also occur in some patients. If you notice any other effects, check with your healthcare professional. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
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