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Pediatricians push for mandatory chicken pox vaccine


January 11, 2000
Web posted at: 11:36 a.m. EST (1636 GMT)

(CNN) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling for the chicken pox vaccination to be mandatory for children entering school or preschool.

Though the varicella vaccine, which prevents chicken pox, has been available in the United States for five years, chicken pox remains a common childhood disease.

Because the vaccine is fairly new, many parents may be confused or concerned about it, while others simply don't know it exists.

"Perhaps only a third of children of a year-and-a-half and 3 years of age are receiving the vaccine of any overall basis," said pediatrician Cody Meissner.

Until recently, the chicken pox was considered a childhood rite of passage, but the disease is highly contagious and can immobilize entire families for weeks.

"Whereas most children will have a relatively mild case of chicken pox, as many as one child out of 200 will be hospitalized with complications due to chicken pox," Meissner said. "And as many as a hundred children a year will die from complications."

Children with chicken pox are at risk for serious complications including streptococcus A. While few adults get chicken pox, those who do have a much higher risk of death and complications.

Washington D.C. and seven states already require the shot for school-age children and other states are expected to follow suit.

In controlled trials, the varicella vaccine has proven to be almost 100 percent effective in preventing severe cases of the disease, and about 85 percent effective in warding off mild cases.

Reactions to the vaccination are usually mild and there are no known serious side effects.

"There is no question that the benefits of the chicken pox vaccine far exceed the risks," Meissner said.

Studied are still underway to determine whether the vaccine provides a lifetime immunity, or whether a booster dose may be necessary.

CNN Parenting Correspondent Pat Etheridge contributed to this report.

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Mayo Clinic: Chickenpox vaccine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Johns Hopkins Infectious Diseases
American Academy of Pediatrics
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