Posted by: Ticktock | March 30, 2009

Pox Parties – Infecting Kids Since the Dark Ages!

I don’t understand the motivation for people to purposefully try to infect their children with chicken pox when there is a perfectly adequate vaccine available.  Babble is featuring an article about pox parties, where parents let their children lick the used lollipops of pox infected neighbors for the sole purpose of contracting the disease.  GROSS!

Are shots really that scary that parents feel that the better alternative is a week of painful nasty blisters – and as Dr. Ari Brown will tell you, the risk of death or pneumonia?

The prevailing argument seems to be that direct contact with chicken pox will give you a lifelong immunity.  The varicella vaccine, it is argued, may not grant lifelong immunity; it hasn’t been around long enough to determine whether the immunity will persist.  While I completely understand this argument, I can’t say that it makes much sense.  If it is later determined that the varicella vaccine needs a booster, then my kids will get the booster.  That seems like a no brainer.  Long term studies in Japan have shown that the vaccine lasts at least 25 years, if not more.  Besides, we know that those individuals who were exposed to the varicella vaccine as children have far milder symptoms if they happen to contract it later.

There’s also the “pro and con” argument, that the pros of natural infection outweigh the cons of vaccinating, which is silly. This misconception probably stems from the drumbeat of fear coming from the antivaccine community.  I guess the argument is that one less shot lessens the degree of fear of autism and toxins – ignoring that shots don’t cause autism and shots don’t contain “toxins”. Chicken pox can seem like a vanity illness that isn’t worth the perceived risk of autism.  After all, it’s only a week off school with hideous liquified boils, and most adults have already survived the temporary misery of chicken pox when they were younger.

Of course, people can die from chicken pox.  It’s a small risk, but it’s a risk.  I would put that in the “con” category, even though an article in the woo woo Mother Magazine laughably tried to discredit and minimize the deaths as malpractice, preexisting conditions, and complications that were “technically” not varicella. The same article also tried to disregard the problem that leukemia patients have with severe complications from chicken pox. Why should it matter to them if leukemia patients are at risk from the disease?   “Our children were all healthy. None had asthma or leukemia (that we knew of)“.  A truly selfish and ignorant statement if ever I’ve heard one.

Also, pregnant mothers with chicken pox put their unborn children in mortal danger and at risk of deformities.  We’ll mark that down as “con”.  While we are at it, we can also note the possibility of scarring and shingles (the degree of risk of the latter in vaccinated children is still unknown but thought to be less severe).

They’ve even developed a pox party plastic teddy bear, so that your children can inhale the pus from a friend without licking them.  Isn’t that nice?

Is there anybody out there that wants to defend pox parties?  Anybody have a good reason for purposefully infecting their kids with an otherwise preventable disease?  I would love to hear those arguments.



  1. Couldn’t agree more. I would have serious issues if I ever found out that my parents deliberately exposed me to a disease. It breaks a fundamental bond of trust. I can’t even imagine doing that to my daughter.

  2. Wow. Chicken pox party parents or darth vader?
    While their intention may be misguided, I’m not sure they rise to the level of vilification that you just plastered onto them. Projecting our shadow onto others may be fun and feel good but it isn’t helpful or healthy. What about these people makes you so aggressive? That is a topic worthy of a post and your time.

  3. Vilify? Really? I had to reread the article to see if your comment has any merit. Beyond the casual sarcasm that you would find anywhere on the internet, I used innocuous words like “silly” “gross” and “ignorant”. Nowhere in my post did I condemn anyone to the third rung of hell, use inappropriate language, or inveigh my post with hate speech. I certainly never likened them in any way to sith lords.

    Clearly, you’ve misinterpreted aggression, but if you’ve read my post completely, you shouldn’t even have to ask why pox parties bother me enough to write a sarcastic, mildly aggressive post about them.

  4. I see that here in the UK, the vaccine has been introduced, but is not generally available to children under 13 years old.

    It seems that the NHS is targeting adults because the virus is much more serious than when caught as a child.

    The idea of a pox party is repulsive.

  5. I will say that as recently as a few years ago (less than five), there were enough questions about the longevity of the vaccine’s effect to question the value of the vaccine. So the element of the vaccine being a convenience vaccine as you wrote still does hold to a degree. Perhaps there is more data now on the efficacy of the vaccine though, I don’t know.

    I do agree with your post in that reactionary responses like pox parties are driven by the same communities that buy into a lot of unsupported health claims. It is an us vs. them mentality that leads parents to uncritically support the opposite of whatever the medical community supports.

  6. My biggest reason for getting my kids vaccinated against chicken pox was the concern of shingles later in life. I’ve seen a couple people who break out in shingles. It took them out for a whole month. Shingles is not pleasant.

  7. I might be wrong, but I think shingles later in life was one of the concerns with the vaccine, that if it waned in strength over the years shingles might be more likely in adults than a good strong dose of the real thing as a child. Boosters might address that, but from a public health standpoint, why not just get it over with by having the disease full blown? Because boosters might or might not be administered to adults (they might just not go back to the doctor), you could theoretically see an increase in shingles as a generation of immunized kids grows up.

    That said, my kids received the chicken pox vaccine, so I am partly playing devils advocate. But I don’t think it is a cut and dry case for the vaccine, because the disease is not generally life and health threatening like MMR or polio.

    • The cdc does not have enough evidence to make an informed statement about shingles, but they actually believe the opposite of what you claim. They expect that individuals who were vaccinated will be less at risk of shingles. Honestly, that whole issue is up in the air, so I think it is a theoretical argument on both sides. Full blown chicken pox puts you at a known risk of shingles, and the vaccine puts you at an unknown risk of shingles.

  8. Re: atimetorend

    That’s exactly the standpoint that th NHS takes here in the UK. They fear a rise in adult shingles will occur if they start vaccinating children for the chicken pox virus. Adult shingles would occur more often until the whole population is vaccinated, then drop off.

    I guess we’ll find out once our American trial’s results are in 🙂

  9. Chickenpox is not just a trivial inconvenience. Missing a week of school or more (I missed 2 weeks) can really put kid behind, especially if they are struggling to begin with. Pox parties were fine before vaccines, considering that it probably better for a kid to get it before they start school. But now we have a vaccine for it and there’s no reason to put a kid through that.

  10. catgirl makes a very good point and I would add that this applies to all the diseases the we are vaccinating against. I would also expand it to the economic realm, who has the job security and the cash reserves to leave work for a week or two to take care of the sick child?

  11. I hope my comment wasn’t read as saying the ch. pox is a trivial inconvenience, I completely agree with the two comments following mine. I guess what I was getting at is that I do not take issue with parents who forgo the chicken pox vaccine for their kids; I think that is a reasonable personal decision, even though I immunized my children for it. But I disagree strongly and vocally with parents who do not immunize their children for MMR and whooping cough.

  12. My son had both the vaccine and a mild case of the pox itself (though I’m wondering now if it was misdiagnosed), 3 and 4 years ago respectively. He just came down with a HORRENDOUS case of the chicken pox. My doc now tells me that researchers have concluded that one vaccine isn’t enough and that kids need a booster as well.
    My two older children caught the disease the “old-fashioned way” while my two younger ones got the immunization. My little one has them every bit as bad as his two older sisters did, maybe worse. I have a friend coming over tomorrow to share a lollipop between her daughter and my son, and I don’t blame her at all. I definitely had a false sense of security with this vaccine, but I know his immunity will be a sure thing when he recovers. My friend would rather her strong, healthy daughter obtain her immunity by going through the disease, rather than taking the vaccine. And of course, if I had known we’d end with a whopping case of the disease anyway, I’d have skipped the stupid vaccine in the first place.

  13. First off, i’m too old to have had the vaccine as a child and i got chicken pox in the 5th grade through no fault of my parents. I can’t imagine attempting to give my child the disease on purpose due to my experiences: 104 degree fever off and on for 3 days, blisters all over my body, including my throat and the bottoms of my feet so i could hardly walk, 3 weeks out of school, a 2 week period when i was 10 due to how screwed up my system was, and scars that are still on my face at age 33. sounds like fun!

  14. Like many posters I think that clearly there is not enough evidence at this point to see how adult shingles will be effected so it is too early to say. I have read some essays on the fact that before the vaccine adults received a “natural booster” of sorts from coming into contact with children with chicken pox which lowered chances of developing shingles which is why, until now, it was most common is the very elderly who often have much less contact with children. Based on this I suspect that boosters will continue to be added to the schedule, as one has been already.

    My other concern with the vaccine is that a vaccinated mother (that never had the natural disease) does not pass on the same level of immunity to her breastfed infant. Since it it only approved for children one year and over I wonder if this won’t open up a whole generation of newborns who are at much greater risk and for whom there is currently no answer.

    I am a strong believer in science, but I think it is not wholly true to present vaccines as risk free or 100% percent effective all the time. They do come with risks, and they do come with side effects. I think there needs to be a more open dialogue about vaccines and a more transparent exchange of information. I support vaccines, but as I parent I also think it is within my rights to have all the facts about a vaccine before I give it to my child, not just the positive ones.

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