Wednesday 28 January 2015

Chicken pox: Why the vaccine might just be worth the expense

Claire MIcks

Published 11/07/2014 | 15:05

Sick girl is measuring the temperature
Less than thrilled at the thoughts of her children getting chicken pox Claire MIcks did her research and decided the vaccine is worth the expense

Less than thrilled at the thoughts of her children getting chicken pox Claire MIcks did her research and decided the vaccine is worth the expense (and the odd befuddled look from other parents)

I’ll get over the fact that calamine lotion and I won’t be getting intimate any time soon

When I mentioned to a friend that I was off to get the kids vaccinated against chicken pox she asked with genuine bewilderment, ‘But why?? When you’re at home already?’ And free to nurse them back to full health, was the unspoken follow-up.

Ouch. Lazy mother alert. Yes, I am presently at home to mind them both should they get struck down. But I soon won’t be. And even if I were, I’m not sure I would invite an illness into my home if I can plausibly avoid it. Even if it does cost me €100 a child to ‘part with the pox’.

Afterwards I thought about how that conversation kind of epitomised the many and varied choices we mums make every day about what we are, and are not, willing to put up with for the benefit of our kids.

Starting with breast versus bottle, and demand feeding versus routine, from day one of Project Parent we make choices around how far we are willing to go to sacrifice our own lives in favour of our children’s. And on many of those occasions I have put the kids first without question. But I am willing to admit that when faced with the prospect of two weeks of being housebound with sick, pus-ey toddlers, for the first time in a long time, I chose me.



Doesn’t mean I don’t feel a tad guilty about it. But I don’t regret the decision. People have looked at me like I’ve two heads when I have ‘fessed up to spending a couple of hundred quid getting them immunised. As they dangle their Orla Kiely nappy bags under my nose.

I did do some (limited) research first. The main kind consisting of asking any parents I stumbled across, who also happened to be medics, whether they got their kids immunised. Many of them had.

I also did some highly filtered research online on the subject (with a very large pinch of salt close to hand). The main downside (other than the obvious one of cost) appears to be that the vaccine has only been around for about 20 years and as a result there is some uncertainty about how long the immunity it delivers lasts. Seems to be anywhere between 11 years, 20 years and lifelong, depending on what you read, but given it’s not around all that long, the answer seems unclear.

The concern ultimately is that if they don’t get a good healthy dose of ‘wild’ chicken pox as kids, they may not develop sufficient immunity to ward it off in later life when it can present a much greater health risk. Before the vaccine was introduced in 1995 in the US, parents across the Atlantic had been known to go so far as to organise ‘pox parties’ to provide deliberate exposure for their children and so promote what was perceived to be longer term immunity as a result. Seems even madder to me than spending three figures on the vaccine. But then again, over there evidence of either vaccination or contraction of the illness can be an actual requirement for entering childcare or schools.




That uncertainty as to whether the immunity lasts or not did concern me, for my daughter in particular, given the complications chicken pox can cause during pregnancy. But then again, how many of us are a bit unclear as to whether or not we actually got a full dose of it as a kid? A ‘few spots here and there’ seems to have been quite common.

The other issue seems to be the effectiveness of the vaccine, which depending on what you read seems to range from 70pc to 100pc. A heavy price to pay if you happen to be in the unlucky 30pc, having already shelled out.

But despite the fact that it’s not foolproof, I decided to get them vaccinated anyway. Because as far as I’m concerned, two inhalers and countless antibiotics later, my two have had more than their fair share of common-or-garden illnesses already. And one less won’t do them any harm. Following the logic of ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, they must already have the immunity of Popeye. And somehow I think I’ll get over the fact that calamine lotion and I won’t be getting intimate any time soon.

I do draw comfort from the fact that the vaccine is apparently on the World Health Organisation’s ‘List of Essential Medicines’. I didn’t read the fine print, however, as to whether that is ‘essential’ to the child or the mother, but regardless, I’m in.


This article first appeared in Mothers & Babies magazine. To read the supplement online, click here.

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