Parent questions chickenpox vaccine after recent outbreak

Sarah Smellie
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Rhona Buchan’s twin two-year-old sons, Ian (left) and Sam, recently came down with a case of the chickenpox, even though they had been vaccinated. — Submitted photo

For most adults, it was a rite of childhood. The well-known symptoms of chickenpox are red, itchy pock marks all over the body, sometimes accompanied by a fever and always accompanied by a week off school.

Before Canada-wide vaccinations against chickenpox were adopted in 2007, 90 per cent of children contracted the disease before the age of 12.

Now, the disease is rare. But a recent outbreak in St. John’s has some parents questioning the vaccination practice. The spots on Rhona Buchan’s twin two-year-old sons, Sam and Ian, showed up last


“I heard through the grapevine that chickenpox was on the go in town, so I looked it up,” she says. “But what I saw on their arms didn’t compare to the pictures, and I dismissed it. Then I heard that another child in their pre-school class had a confirmed case and I looked again. By then, the bumps had evolved and it was chickenpox.”

Though chickenpox is usually mild, and more of an inconvenience than a threat, complications can occur. Children with compromised immune systems can develop bacterial infections in the vesicles, and shingles can show up later in life. Pregnant women who become infected can pass it on to their fetus, and that can result in birth defects.

As well, chickenpox can be dangerous for adults: according to the Canadian Pediatric Society, adults have a greater chance of complications such as pneumonia or high fevers.

In Buchan’s case, her children were exposed to someone with a weakened immune system, and she was quite concerned.

Buchan’s sons had been vaccinated at 12 months, the standard age in Newfoundland.

Documents published by the Public Health Agency of Canada say three to four per cent of vaccinated kids are expected to contract chickenpox each year.

“My sons are in a class of 12 kids,” she says. “Four of them came down with chickenpox last week, so that’s over 30 per cent.”

According to a 2011 study by the Canadian Pediatrics Society, immunity can wane after one dose of the chickenpox vaccine .

The study also states, with a one-dose program, people are contracting the disease later in life, when it can be risky.

As of September 2011, the society recommends a booster shot be given between ages four and six. This has been the practice in the U.S., and is now standard practice in at least two other Canadian provinces.

The Telegram repeatedly requested an interview with Dr. Faith Stratton, chief medical officer of health for Newfoundland and Labrador, to inquire about the province’s one-dose vaccination program, but the request was not granted by the Department of Health and Community Services.

Instead, a department communications spokesman issued a statement indicating the vaccine is publicly funded, and there has been a reduction in the number of cases of chickenpox reported, which the department monitors.

“A second booster dose of the chickenpox vaccine, along with other new enhanced vaccination programs, will continue to be considered for Newfoundland and Labrador,” the statement concluded.

For Buchan’s sons, the vaccine did seem to help the course of the infection.

“It was very mild,” she said. “They didn’t even get a fever.”

“But I don’t really know what to think of this vaccine,” she added. “It seems almost better to do without it, and just let the kids have it and move on.”

Organizations: Canadian Pediatrics Society, Public Health Agency of Canada, Department of Health and Community

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, U.S.

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Recent comments

  • K
    February 03, 2016 - 22:49

    I didn't get the vaccine (as I went through school before they were available) and I didn't catch the chickenpox until I was 17. It was absolutely horrid, and I could've had more serious complications if it had been later and we didn't catch it soon enough for antivirals, regardless of being vaccinated or not. I say let your child get the chickenpox and move on. It's better to get it done and over with early.

  • Paul G. King, PhD
    June 12, 2012 - 20:45

    Even the 2-dose "chickenpox" vaccination program has a 20% failure rate as well as an increased risk f an early recurrence as "shingles". Overall, even the 1-dose program is neither cost effective nor effective in preventing the disease in children compared to the natural chickenpox disease proided appropriate supportive nutrition is provided during the course of the disease. If you want to an informed reader check out the publications by Dr. Gary S. Goldman that discuss the issues and the realities about the failure of a universal varicella (chickenpox) vaccination program to be either in-use effective .or cost-effective when all costs are considered.

  • TimmyJ
    June 11, 2012 - 18:02

    Fear takes over again. This reminds me of the vaccine that was supposed to cause Autism. That was debunked but I'm sure there are still people out there who think it does.

  • jennifer M.
    June 11, 2012 - 10:11

    @JM I should have been clearer, by saying that vaccines are not properly tested and unproven I didn't mean to blanket all vaccines. The chicken pox vaccine hasn't been tested properly in a long term study, in my personal opinion. It has been used in Asia for quite a while but, there are issues coming from their studies about it's effectiveness. I also feel the same way with the HPV vaccine. My friend was part of the clinical trials of that vaccine in 2001, I personally feel that 11 years is not a long enough time to know the long term effects of this vaccine. I am not a person to cause a debate or fuss, I just feel that sometimes we follow the medical fields and all of their advancements with blind faith and we don't ever question them. I do not judge anyone for their choices, vaccinate or don't vaccinate, as long as you have educated yourself and made the right decision for you based on the research that you have done.

  • Dawn
    June 11, 2012 - 09:10

    Since the biggest risk is catching it during pregnancy, doesn't it seem safer if we did away with the vaccine and let kids get it in childhood. With effectiveness rates the way they are and the vaccine not lasting nearly as long as they had hoped, an adults best chance of getting it would be during pregnancy when her resistance was down. It's like we're setting out youth up to not get it, only to eventually get it when it's riskier. NOt to mention since chicken pox has gone down with the vax, shingles has gone way way up... And that's way more dangerous and painful. People only consider safety about direct harm from vaccines, step back and see the bigger picture.

  • Paula
    June 11, 2012 - 07:26

    My daughter had the menningitis vaccine. Six months later she had menningitis. She is now profoundly deaf from the side effects of this deadly disease. There should be more testing on these vaccinations.

  • Grieving Mother
    June 11, 2012 - 07:12

    Babs, Learn something about this "deadly disease". A five year old child who died from chicken pox is hardly older.

    • Dawn
      June 11, 2012 - 09:15

      I'm very sorry for your loss, but chicken pox during its hayday killed less children than even circumcision. So, it is relatively safe to get it. It gets riskier now though when people take their kids to hospitals to get seen given how many people develop hospital acquired secondary infections. Chicken Pox almost never kills, even the low death rates from chicken pox, were attributed to secondary infections. Those of us who do not vaccinate against chicken pox boost our kids with vitamin C (and others) and smear antibacterial RAW honey on the pox to keep infection from setting in.

  • Gorbie
    June 11, 2012 - 05:35

    I am very happy to see a mom use critical decision making when looking at her child's health. If people get up in arms about this type of reflection, they are aware of the scientific process and research. It takes a strong person to question the pharmaceautical companies. Ultimately we are responsible for our own health and medications are not always the answer. Good article and observation skills. By the way, I also was to believe this vaccination works but am noticing the same with my daughter's age group of 2-3 year olds.

  • Trace
    June 11, 2012 - 01:19

    It should be noted that a person can get Shingles later in life from having the Chickenpox vaccine as well. (So a great opportunity to later have a Shingles vaccine as well!). As far as the vaccine being safe, there are always risks with vaccines. It seems that many vaccines are found to wane after sometimes a short period of time. This causes many boosters to be required, as well as never knowing if a person has immunity at a given time. This can be dangerous to adults, immune compromised people and pregnant women as well. I think parents are being made to fear all illness instead of being assisted with helping to develop a strong immune system with lifestyle, nutrition and yes sometimes getting sick. They are being made to fear every illness as possibly leading to Meningitis, Flesh Eating disease etc. Most are harmless if your immune system is working properly. There are many illnesses that have the minute possibility of causing harm but there are not vaccines for everything. Drug companies are busy trying to create them though. Selling medicines to healthy people is good money!

  • Babs
    June 11, 2012 - 00:28

    @ J - chicken pox isn't a scary deadly disease, unless you get it when you are older. No vaccine has been proven effective and if you read the article it supports the fact that the vaccine isn't working and putting people at risk for contracting chicken pox when they are older. What ever happened to natural immunity. are we so fragile a species that we need to put synthetics into our body just to be healthy?

  • Jimmy T
    June 10, 2012 - 23:27

    The Telegram should be ashamed of themselves for sensationalizing an issue that has been put to rest time and time again. What a complete lack of journalist integrity. Go do your research and don't join the group of imbeciles putting our children at risk by falsely denouncing vaccines. Shameful

    • Dana
      June 12, 2012 - 18:10

      Jimmy, I have done the research and vaccinations are more of a risk. Disease rates like autism are out of control. Rate of increase is very close to the increase in vaccination required by Governments. Do you really need 46 shots before your 4th birthday? Drug company research is false.

  • Bernie
    June 10, 2012 - 19:43

    Documents published by the Public Health Agency of Canada say three to four per cent of vaccinated kids are expected to contract chickenpox each year. “My sons are in a class of 12 kids,” she says. “Four of them came down with chickenpox last week, so that’s over 30 per cent.” Correct in both cases as per percentages...but Stressing 30% is misleading as it is 30% of the 12 kids and not the populations as studies show.

  • Kate
    June 10, 2012 - 14:52

    There is definitely a good reason to be concerned about the chicken pox vaccine. We are settings ourselves up for trouble in the future by overloading our kids with vaccines and other chemicals/hormones/etc. Chicken pox at a young age has very few problems so I do not see the reason a vaccine is necessary.

    • JM
      June 11, 2012 - 05:05

      I agree with your position but not your reasoning. Vaccines are a safe way of gaining immunity without exposing yourself to the full effect of a disease itself. I don't see how we are setting ourselves up for any problems using vaccines to manage public health. The chicken pox vaccine, in my opinion, may not be the best use of public money. This isn't a dangerous or costly disease. At best its an inconvenience. I would be more inclined to question what is the benefit vs the cost of assigning public funds towards this program and who is benefiting from it.

  • christina
    June 10, 2012 - 14:35

    I had chicken pox as a child but when i went to a course in post secondary I had to get the needle as it didnt show up that I had had it on my medical records apparently I hadent built up an immunity there was 2 needles i had to take the second one 3 months later im not sure if its the same with kids if they need 2 of the needles or not but perhaps it wasent a strong enough dose and they didnt build up an immunity to it

  • jennifer m.
    June 10, 2012 - 14:13

    My son had the chicken pox when he was 4 and he didn't have a fever, actually, you would have never known he had the chicken pox except for the spots. I decided not to get my daughter vaccinated because I would rather take my chances with the chicken pox instead of an unproven vaccine that hasn't had proper testing. I know that there are pros and cons to all vaccines but I truly believe that our kids need to get sick sometimes so there immune systems have a chance to develop.

    • JM
      June 11, 2012 - 04:51

      @Jennifer M - can you please define what you mean by "unproven vaccines and not properly tested". The process for vetting vaccines before they are paid for and distributed as part of public programs means vaccines have to go through a significant amount of testing across multiple health systems worldwide and are under constant review for efficacy and safety. Are you suggesting that the chicken pox vaccine has some how slipped the net and public health officials somehow just went "what the hell" and issued the vaccine for a laugh?

  • starr
    June 10, 2012 - 13:05

    Overloading our children's bodies with unproven vaccines has to be a risk. who knows the long term damage of doing this and the other things it may cause eventually.

    • J
      June 10, 2012 - 15:55

      Yeah based on what Starr. Getting vaccinated is a 1000 to a million times safer than contracting the disease itself. These vaccines are proven and safe.