You’re Invited… To The Worst Party Imaginable

Hey kid! Oh, do I have a treat for you! You’ve been invited to a party. There will be movies, popcorn, candy and some new friends for you to meet. Feel free to give your new friends lots of hugs and kisses. Snuggle extra close once the movie starts. Be sure to share your drinks and treats. Oh, and have LOTS of fun because you’re going to curse your otherwise charmed existence in a couple weeks.

So sorry, kid. This is more than just a slumber party, it’s breeding ground for infectious disease. 

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Before the Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine became widely available in 1995, pox parties were all the rage. Your kid is going to get chickenpox sometime, so you might as well party with some infected kids and prepare to quarantine your house and treat the illness. 

In fact, my younger brother and I went to a pox party in 1993. The party was fun, although I didn’t really understand at the time that our dear friends were highly contagious and I was going to be completely miserable in a couple weeks because of course, I got chickenpox. 

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I had the typical, best case scenario case of chickenpox. I was seven at the time, which was a decent enough age to get chickenpox as the disease is usually more severe for toddlers or teenagers. I was lucky enough not to have any serious complications or require a hospital stay. But, it was awful. 

About two weeks being infected, I started to feel sick with flu-like symptoms– fever, headache, body aches, cough, sore throat, etc. After about two days of feeling sick, the red spots started appearing on my body. They itched and they hurt. My whole body just hurt. There’s not enough oatmeal bath or calamine lotion in the world to numb the itch and pain of chickenpox. 

The red spots from chickenpox go through a cycle of blistering, bursting, drying and then crusting over. Yes, this is disgusting. It’s the chickenpox. Not pleasant. Once these blisters have gone through their cycle, new red spots and blisters appear, every day for about 5 to 7 days. An infected person usually has about 250-500 blisters on their body and they alllllll itch. Every single one of the little bastards.

The whole process takes about 10 days. So, that’s 10 days of your child feeling completely miserable. Ten days of you, the parent, taking sick leave from work or otherwise focusing all attention to your sick child. Ten days your child misses school or is allowed to return to daycare. 

Like jelly shoes, NKOTB and other trends from the 90s, pox parties are back. Parents who choose not to get the chickenpox vaccine for their children find other like-minded parents on social media, parenting groups, various websites or specific “Find a Pox Party” groups. Since so many parents DO choose to vaccinate, the cases of chickenpox of course have dramatically decreased. There have been cases of parents selling chickenpox laced lollipops. (No, really.) The AAP and state health officials discourage pox parties. Also, mailing infectious diseases or viruses in the mail is just as illegal as mailing anthrax and can land you in jail for a good while. 

Many parents who decline the chickenpox vaccine say they want their children to naturally be exposed, naturally build immunity, don’t believe the vaccine is safe, don’t believe chickenpox are a big deal, believe having chickenpox is a rite of passage, don’t want the child to have to get a shot, etc. This vaccine is one that parents generally could take or leave. Meh, we didn’t have the vaccine, we got chickenpox, we survived. 

But, many children did not survive chickenpox. Before 1995, about 100 people died from the disease and 11,000 people were hospitalized. Serious complications from chickenpox include staph and flesh-eating bacterial infections, dehydration, pneumonia and encephalitis (brain swelling), which is often the killer. 

I, like most kids, had a mild case. Although it was still awful and I would have personally preferred a shot to save me from 7-10 days of misery. Your kid would probably have a mild case as well, but they may not. There’s no way to know if your child could have serious complications from the chickenpox. 

Before you show any symptoms of chickenpox, you can still infect other people. You can infect adults who never got the disease or vaccination, babies who haven’t been vaccinated yet and both children and adults who are immunosuppressed and/or on chemo and can develop life-threatening complications if exposed. So, even if your child is likely to have a mild case of chickenpox, they could spread it to someone who is more at risk for a truly awful case. 

Now let’s talk about this option that is much easier, safe, less painful, quicker and more effective– the magical chickenpox vaccine. 

Chickenpox Vaccine Cons:

  • Like pretty much all vaccines, not everyone should get them. If there’s a history of severe vaccine reactions in your family, if you’re pregnant, have a gelatin allergy, are sick, etc., you probably shouldn’t get the vaccine.
  • There are possible side effects like having a sore arm, fever, mild rash and serious, and very rare side effects like seizures or pneumonia. 
  • It’s not 100 percent effective (About 99 percent effective and those vaccinated generally have a very mild case of chickenpox)
  • It hurts! But usually just for a minute. 

Chickenpox Vaccine Pros:

  • Protection from the discomfort and life-threatening complications of chickenpox
  • No time away from school or work (Guess this could be a con…)
  • A vaccinated person is far less likely to get shingles later in life.
  • Quick, easy, generally covered completely by insurance
  • By not getting chickenpox, you’re not infecting people who cannot be vaccinated and are more likely to have serious complications from the disease

By weighing the risk and potential benefit, getting the chickenpox vaccine was an absolute no-brainer for our family. Like most toddlers, Daniel was a good, healthy candidate and got the vaccine at his 15-month appointment. He’ll get a booster sometime between four and six years old. Even if I took the possibility of serious side-effects, infecting others, etc. out of the equation and assumed he would have a mild case of chickenpox, I would much rather him have the vaccine (and the 30 seconds of discomfort) than the disease. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks. 

Unlike polio, measles and other diseases thankfully almost eradicated by vaccines, I actually had the chickenpox and most parents did too. But I don’t look at the disease as a childhood rite of passage or reflect fondly on being completely covered in itchy red spots. The chickenpox are at best, incredibly unpleasant and at worst, deadly. Now my child likely won’t have to experience that. I consider that a win.

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