What Pharmacists Should Know About the Chickenpox Party Trend

OCTOBER 24, 2018
Chickenpox exposure was considered a thing of the past before the vaccine became available in 1995 to prevent the disease in adulthood, where the complications can be serious. Pharmacists can play an important role in educating parents about the importance of vaccination against chickenpox.

Modern chickenpox parties are being coordinated through social media are becoming a dangerous trend, due to the anti-vaccine movement. In 1 instance, a group of Boulder, Colorado parents are setting up play dates through Facebook to purposefully infect their children with chickenpox. At the chickenpox parties, children are encouraged to breathe each other’s exhaled air, share snacks out of the same bowl, and play games.1

These parties are disturbing since there is a safe and effective vaccine available. The CDC is strongly against chickenpox parties and recommends the vaccine as the best form of protection.2  Children should receive two doses, with the first at 12-15 months and the second at 4-6 years of age. After both doses, the vaccine is about 98% effective at preventing chickenpox.2  

Chickenpox is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus that leads to symptoms such as a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. Pharmacists can educate parents that children infected with chickenpox can be sick for about a week and serious complications can arise, such as dehydration, pneumonia, bacterial infections, and encephalitis. Individuals with chickenpox can spread the disease from 1 to 2 days before they get the rash and until the blisters have formed scabs (about 5-7 days).2 

Immunization helps to protect those in the community from chickenpox who are too young to be vaccinated, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women. Children attending the chickenpox parties can infect others in the community once they leave the event. This can have serious consequences, especially if these individuals travel on airplanes.  Measles outbreaks have already started globally due to the anti-vaccine movement. 

Pharmacists can educate parents at pharmacies, local schools, and community health fairs on the importance of immunizing their children with the chickenpox vaccine on time. Vaccine adverse effects are mild and may include soreness at the injection site, fever, and mild rash.

Let parents know that before the vaccine became available, chickenpox caused about 4 million cases, over 10,000 hospitalizations, and 100-150 deaths each year.2 Parents should also turn down requests to attend chickenpox parties. 

  1. Haller S. Parents plan unsafe chickenpox party. One parent 'swamped with requests' to share disease. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/allthemoms/2018/10/18/parents-plan-dangerous-chickenpox-parties/1681958002/. Published October 18, 2019. Accessed October 23, 2018.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Chickenpox (varicella).  CDC website.  https://www.cdc.gov/chickenpox/index.html. Accessed October 22, 2018.

Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh
Jennifer Gershman, PharmD, CPh, received her PharmD degree from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) College of Pharmacy in 2006 and completed a 2-year drug information residency. She served as a pharmacy professor at NSU’s College of Pharmacy for 6 years, managed the drug information center, and conducted medication therapy management reviews. Dr. Gershman has published research on prescription drug abuse, regulatory issues, and drug information in various scholarly journals. Additionally, she received the Sheriff’s Special Recognition Award for her collaboration with the Broward, Florida Sheriff’s Office to prevent prescription drug abuse through a drug disposal program. She has also presented at pharmacist and physician continuing education programs on topics that include medication errors, prescription drug abuse, and legal and regulatory issues. Dr. Gershman can be followed on Twitter @jgershman2