Anonymous Asks: “Why are vaccines for things like rotavirus and chickenpox on the vaccine schedule when both are common childhood illnesses that are generally not dangerous if treated well (hydration, mainly, for rotavirus)? I just personally struggle with a distrust of the cdc when they recommend vaccines for things that are common and non life threatening. Thanks!”
Our Answer: That’s is an excellent question. Many of us grew up in the times when chickenpox was considered a “rite of passage”. Most of us ended up with a mild case that kept us home from school for a week while we watched TV; we were the lucky ones. For some, particularly babies, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, it can be quite serious. Some people have long lasting scarring, some suffer from painful pox on their eyeballs, inside their nose, throats, and genitalia. Before the vaccine, 13,000 were hospitalized annually, and up to 150 died. Infection during pregnancy results in death of the fetus or newborn in more than 30% of cases. Another concern that wasn’t as significant as when we were children is the risk of secondary antibiotic resistant infections in the open sores, which can be very difficult to treat. One last factor to consider is the lasting burden of disease. Of those who end up with chickenpox, 30% will end up with shingles, an extremely painful, sometimes debilitating rash that can last several weeks, although some sufferers can experience residual nerve pain for months or years, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia.
Similarly, before the rotavirus vaccine was available, 80% of all children under 5 would develop rotavirus; mortality rates were low, between 2060 per year, but 1 in 7 would require emergency treatment, and 1 in 70 would require hospitalization. Annually, hospitalization costs were estimated at $1billion. After the introduction of the vaccine, hospitalization rates went down by over 94%. You’re right that both varicella and rotavirus have relatively low mortality rates, but looking at just mortality rates misses the true burden of disease.