Ever since the chicken pox vaccine became routine for kids back in 1995, deaths from the virus, also known as varicella, have been dropping. A study in the journal Pediatrics out today tells us just how steep that drop has been.
In the 12 years after the one-dose vaccination program was launched, deaths from varicella dropped 88 percent overall compared with the prevaccine years. In absolute terms, deaths declined from 0.41 per million in 1990-1994 to 0.05 per million in 2005–2007. Among children and adolescents younger than 20 years, there was a precipitous 97 percent reduction in deaths. Deaths among people younger than 50 years declined almost as much.
The study was done by researchers at the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They looked at mortality data from 1990 to 2007.
Though the disease is barely fatal anymore, the vaccine doesn't provide perfect protection from illness. After one shot of the vaccine, about 25 percent of children still spread the varicella virus around, or get sick themselves.
Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended two shots. Earlier this year, Shots reported new evidence that two doses of vaccine against the virus indeed seem to be the best way to go to prevent it.
But the vaccine doesn't necessarily provide lifelong protection from varicella-related illness. Even with the vaccine, the virus can hide out in nerves for years, and make a comeback to cause shingles, a painful rash. But there is a vaccine now for shingles. A January report from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the vaccine prevents shingles 55 percent of the time.