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“Pox Parties:” Good or Bad for Kids?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

There is a craze erupting among some parents of young children in the U.S. Some are hosting “chickenpox parties.” The idea? If you don’t like the varicella vaccination, immunize your child the “natural and old-fashioned” way. Get them sick.

Ever since the autism scare with the MMR vaccination, may parents have opted out of childhood immunizations. I understand how strong parental fear can be, because I am a parent. But I also know science. And- I know that there is a whole lot of nonsense posing as science that parents can access on the internet.

Unfortunately, while the association between autism and thimerisol in the MMR vaccine has long been debunked (even by the authors of the “study” exposing it), fear still abounds.

Here’s the real problem with the chickenpox parties. First, when a child contracts the chickenpox infection through exposure, his risk of getting serious sequelae are much higher. When he gets the infection, he may get cerebritis (infection of the cerebellar brain tissue), pneumonia, painful oral sores, keratitis (eye problems), secondary bacterial infections from sores on the skin, shingles later in life and more. Avoiding these serious problems was exactly the reason that physicians began immunizing against varicella. Some of these can be life threatening. These DON’T occur when you immunize children.

Many of the parents are exposing their children because they know that getting chickenpox as an adult is very dangerous. They are right. But kids can also get what adults get when they get the infection.

Second, some parents want their kids to get the infection because they believe that it will confer lifelong immunity. While this may have been true thirty years ago when all kids got chickenpox, we don’t know if it is true any longer. Back then, kids had repeated exposure to the illness through siblings, classmates and others in the community but that no longer happens because we rarely see chickenpox anymore. Bottom line is, the rules have changed.

I strongly believe that parents should never make parenting decisions out of fear. Not immunizing your children is just that. What parents who refuse to immunize forget is that taking a different tact like this doesn’t minimize your child’s risk for problems. Sure, children won’t get reactions to the vaccines, but these are mild compared to sequelae from the infection. Unimmunized kids are extremely vulnerable to life threatening illness. We really have come a long way in making kids healthy, so let’s not go backwards. Taking kids to chickenpox parties leaves them wide open for many very serious health concerns that really don’t need to be part of a child’s life any longer.

If you are concerned about vaccine safety, visit the VAER on the CDC website for accurate medical information.

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