Most parents are keen adherents to the age old adage of "prevention is better than cure". However, for some common childhood diseases, such as chicken pox, there is poor awareness about the benefits of a vaccination against the itchy and highly contagious disease.
The illness, which is characterised by fever and small, red, itchy blisters on the body and face is sometimes even 'celebrated' with 'chicken pox parties' in which parents hope to expose their children to the virus and gain a natural immunity from the disease in adulthood. In the United States, some parents have gone as far as to purchase saliva-soaked tissues and licked lollipops used by a chicken pox infected child to spread the disease to their own children.
The benefits of a chicken pox vaccine
However, the chicken pox vaccine can provide sufficient immunity to the illness - without having to go through the discomfort of the rashes and fever. It is important to remember that while chicken pox is usually a mild disease, complications may still develop. The best way to prevent chicken pox is through a fuss free vaccination.
Dr Eugene Loke from Mediline Wei Min Clinic said the main reasons for parents not vaccinating their children against chicken pox is because they prefer the child not to take anti-viral medicine and for them to gain natural immunity by contracting the illness.
He said that while chicken pox is usually a mild illness in healthy children, "there's still a very real risk of complications of chicken pox". For instance, severe chicken pox can lead to pneumonia and brain inflammation. Complications from the latter can result in brain damage or even death.
These complications could be prevented with the vaccination. The chicken pox vaccine contains a weakened live form of the virus and is injected into a person to build resistance to the illness. "Vaccination is like buying insurance-most of the time we don't get the payout, but it's always good to have," said Dr Loke who would generally advise patients without any medical conditions to get the vaccination. There is also a non-medical benefit of a chicken pox vaccination by making sure the child does not fall sick during critical examinations years, pointed out the general practitioner.
In countries such as Australia and the United State, the chicken pox vaccination is part of the national immunisation programme. However, in Singapore, the vaccine is not part of a routine childhood vaccination. For parents who are considering protecting their child against chicken pox, Dr Loke suggest a combination muscles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine which also protects against chicken pox.
It is recommended that the chicken pox vaccine be given to children between 12 to 18 months. Children below the age of 13 require only one dose of the chicken pox vaccine while those above 13 years told need two doses, administered four to eight weeks apart.
While chicken pox is more common in children, anyone can get be infected with the virus. Adults who have not had chicken pox and are not vaccinated are recommended to get the jab as the syndromes of chicken pox in adults tend to be more severe. Women who are already pregnant are not advised to get vaccinated but someone who is planning for a baby should and not immunised should consider the shot as a protective measure. Healthcare workers and those work in conditions where transmission can easily occur, such as foreign workers can also benefit. Meanwhile those who have health conditions should check with their doctors if they can receive the vaccinations.