Pregnancy and Chickenpox No Vaccines for Pregnant Women


The chickenpox (varicella) vaccine has helped save many lives. However, it should NEVER be given to pregnant women. The chickenpox vaccine is called Varivax. Varivax contains a small amount of the actual chickenpox virus. Exposure to naturally occurring chickenpox virus during early pregnancy can cause birth defects in the baby and make the mother very sick.

Birth defects occur in about 2% of babies born to mothers who become infected with chickenpox during weeks 13-20 of pregnancy. When non-pregnant, healthy people are exposed to the chickenpox virus, they CAN get the vaccine, Varivax, to help protect them from getting sick. But if a pregnant woman is exposed to chickenpox, and has never had the disease or the vaccine, she should ONLY get VZIG, or varicella immune globulin.

VZIG is not a vaccine. It will not prevent mothers and their babies from getting chickenpox. But it can lessen how sick the mother gets if it’s given within 4 days after contact with chickenpox virus. It is not certain whether giving Varivax during pregnancy causes harm to the baby. So, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows cases in which pregnant women mistakenly receive Varivax just before or during pregnancy.

As of 2003, there were 22 cases in which pregnant women should have gotten VZIG but got Varivax instead. Two women had miscarriages and one had a baby with serious birth defects. Mistakes have happened because of the similar names of the two medicines. Both names contain the word varicella and start with the letter “V.”

To protect against chickenpox and to avoid getting the vaccine if pregnant: If you are NOT pregnant: Get vaccinated while it's safe. If you are a woman who has never had chickenpox, get immunized with Varivax while there's no chance of pregnancy. Your doctor should confirm this with a pregnancy test. After getting the vaccine, wait 3 months before getting pregnant to prevent the risk of birth defects.

Vaccinate children. Make sure your children receive Varivax. This prevents spread of the virus to others, including pregnant women who have never had chickenpox or the vaccine. If you ARE pregnant and have never received Varivax or had chickenpox: Avoid the virus. Stay away from anyone who has chickenpox, shingles, or has just received Varivax. Shingles are painful and itchy blisters, often on the back, caused by the same virus as chickenpox.

Call your doctor right away if you've been in contact with someone with chickenpox or shingles. Be part of the safety team. If you need treatment for exposure to chickenpox, be sure you only get VZIG (varicella immune globulin). Warn healthcare providers about the name mix-ups and to double check that you're getting VZIG not Varivax.

Created on July 1, 2006

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