States Mandate Varicella Vaccine
N E W Y O R K, Aug. 1 -- Robert Wack knew about the vaccine to preventchickenpox, but he opted against giving it to his infant son.
The result: His son, Michael, developed chickenpox in 1998 whenhe was 2.
Wack, a Westminster, Md., pediatrician, did not think thedisease warranted the vaccination — although it can be serious andeven fatal in a small number of cases.
He considered the disease a sort of childhood rite of passage.“It is more of a nuisance disease compared to pertussis (whoopingcough) and measles,” Wack said.
Resisting the Varicella Vaccine
Wack’s resistance to the chickenpox immunization, also known asthe varicella vaccine, highlights the difficulty public healthofficials have faced building support for the shot. But graduallythat resistance is fading among parents and doctors due to publicawareness campaigns by the vaccine’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., andgovernment health agencies.
Also helping the trend is the growing list of states thatrequire the vaccination for entrance into public school or daycare. While still not as widely given as other childhoodimmunizations such as those for polio and measles, the chickenpoxvaccine is closing the gap.
The vaccine is already required for day care or public school orboth in the District of Columbia and seven states: Massachusetts,Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee andVirginia. In the 2000-01 school year, 11 more states will mandatethe vaccine: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia,Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota andTexas.
And between the fall of 2001 and 2003, the vaccine will also berequired in Alaska, Florida, New York and Louisiana.
The requirements have had an effect. The immunization rates forthe chickenpox vaccine, first available in 1995, hit 59 percent oftoddlers last year, up from 43.2 percent in 1998 and 37 percent in1997.
In comparison, the vaccine rate for thediptheria-pertussis-tetanus shot last year was 95.9 percent,according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.