Chicken Pox Vaccine: Dr Yazbak

The Chickenpox Vaccine by F. Edward Yazbak, MD, FAAP

Of all pediatric mandated vaccination programs, two seem to make even less sense than others. The first is the universal hepatitis B vaccination program, starting shortly after birth and intended to decrease the risk and incidence of primary liver cancer.  The second is the universal pediatric chickenpox vaccination program, the subject of this report.
Until the mid-nineties, everyone thought that chickenpox was a mild childhood illness that was catchy and made children itch for a few days. It rated somewhere between an inconvenience and a mild nuisance but it was a good excuse for mothers to stay home from work and “bond” for a while. The best part of the day for the poor itchy toddler was bath time when a tubful of tepid Aveeno seemed like heaven and where he could splash and giggle and sing “If you’re happy, and you know it, clap your hands.”

For the longest time, mothers were delighted when their children developed chicken pox because they knew that the disease was so much more severe among adults. In fact, in spite of their doctors’ admonition, mothers sometimes chose to expose their toddlers to chickenpox in order “to be done with it.”

Pediatricians knew that the infection was caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV) and that children very rarely developed serious omplications, unless they were immune-compromised.

It was also well-known that the elderly developed shingles, a late complication caused by a reactivation of the chickenpox virus. It was postulated that particles of VZV migrated from the chickenpox blisters and moved to the nervous system where they laid dormant for years because of the repeated exposure to chickenpox in the community that boosted the individual’s immunity. If an individual was compromised for any reason, such as by lack of immune competence or stress, the VZV reactivated, moved back through the nerve fibers and invaded the sensory cell bodies in the neighboring skin, eventually causing the typical rash of shingles. Because that last event took a little while, skin sensitivity and pain often preceded the skin eruptions.

Some fifteen years ago, suddenly and out of the blue, chickenpox became a very serious disease and there were multiple TV and press reports about children dying from chickenpox all over the country. Economists weighed in and ominous warnings filled the air: Chickenpox was not only killing kids and adults, it was a national economic disaster that was eventually ultimately going to collapse the United States economy because it kept mothers at home caring for their children instead of at work.

Merck and the CDC joint efforts had succeeded in creating “a need”, a vaccine for chickenpox was developed and the FDA quickly licensed it. After all, our children’s lives and our national economy depended on it.

Evidently forgetting the uproar about the MMR vaccine, some bright people at Merck met with friends in Atlanta, and decided to combine VARIVAX® with the MMR vaccine. The new vaccine MMRV was licensed in 2005 and marketed under the name PROQUAD®. I thought the name was as strange as the idea. [ii]

In early 2008, the FDA announced that the incidence of febrile seizures had increased with the use of PROQUAD® at age 12-15 months and that some reports of encephalitis following vaccination had been filed. [iii]  The Agency then immediately explained that this did not mean that the encephalitis was caused by the vaccine, a standard argument with vaccine adverse events. If one takes an arthritis or an anti-diabetic drug and gets a reaction, the drug is immediately blamed, the lawyers take over and the company suspends or stops manufacturing the problem drug. On the other hand, if someone has a serious reaction shortly after a vaccination, such as an encephalopathy or encephalitis, it is almost always considered a coincidence. No matter the number of reports of vaccine-related adverse events, the verdict is the same: They are allanecdotal and nothing but unscientific observations by nervous parents. 

After VARIVAX® was introduced, we all expected a decrease in the number of cases of chickenpox among children and an increase in the disease incidence among adults, who were likely to be much sicker. That all happened!

As uptake of VARIVAX® increased, the incidence of chickenpox decreased and by 2002, verified pediatric chicken pox cases had dropped by 85% in certain surveillance sites.  Unfortunately, that brilliant result came with a price: The all important chickenpox immunological boosting that had occurred since time immemorial because of continued exposure to wild-type VZV was quickly disappearing and with it all the protection it provided.

On October 18, 2010, the Medical Journal of Australia, the official journal of the Australian Medical Association published an article conceding that since the introduction of the varicella vaccine in 2000 “…there has been a decrease in varicella cases and a rise in HZ cases in Australian general practice consultations”. [vi]

This was absolutely the first time that I had personally seen or heard that very disturbing fact so bluntly stated. The authors’ statistics were very sobering too: The number of general practice consultations for shingles in Australia had increased by 100% in 10 years from 1.7/1000 consultations in 2000 to 3.4/1000 consultations for the first half of 2010. The increase in shingles-related consultations among patients older than 70 during the same period was simply described as substantial.

It was only after the horse was way out of the barn, that surveillance sites started monitoring shingles trends, some five years after the varicella vaccine had been introduced.

Even then, the pro-vaccine forces still remained in solid denial and persistently downgraded the risk; after all, “their serious disease called chickenpox that had killed people” had been wiped out. So what if there was some “collateral damage”.

True to form, the CDC is still not mentioning shingles as a complication of chickenpox vaccination. On October 23, 2010, I reviewed the current Vaccine Information Statement (VIS) for VARIVAX®, [vii] the official information pamphlet that a parent is supposed to read before signing the permission slip allowing the administration of the vaccine.

The document, dated 3/13/2008 only stated that: “A person who has had chickenpox can get a painful rash called shingles years later”. It also still asserts that before the vaccine, about 11,000 people were hospitalized and about 100 died each year in the United States, as a result of chickenpox."

It did not say that the vaccine can double the incidence of shingles among contacts and it certainly did not say how frequently people all over the United States now suffered from the complication.  Nor did it allude to the vastly under-represented 45,000 + chickenpox vaccine-associated reactions so far reported to VAERS.

Thoughts and Reflections

Twenty-first century mainstream medical professionals insist that a vaccine is needed for every acute illness. However, until and unless we do studies comparing the vaccinated to the never-vaccinated, we will never know what is really best for us and for our children.

Honest efforts to study both the long and short-term effects of each vaccination are urgently needed otherwise we are fooling ourselves and just whistling in the dark when we enumerate the alleged benefits of a vaccination. 

In years past, people felt that children were actually stronger and healthier after they recovered from certain contagious diseases.

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