How ‘chickenpox parties’ are on the rise again: Experts warn parents against natural immunity and the dangers of the unpredictable virus
- The practice of mixing healthy and chickenpox-infected children is said to be on the rise now, almost 25 years after the chickenpox vaccine was developed
- Experts warn parents against participating in these ‘chickenpox parties’
- The virus’ severity is said to be unpredictable and a gamble for healthy children
- Chickenpox can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy kids
‘Chickenpox parties’ are said to be on the rise again, but experts warn that the dangers of purposely infecting healthy children with the virus may outweigh the supposed benefits of doing so.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin recently made headlines after revealing to WKCT that he and his wife had purposely exposed their five biological and four adopted children to chickenpox, all of who are unvaccinated.
‘They got the chickenpox on purpose, because we found a neighbor that had it and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it,’ Bevin said.
Chickenpox parties are said to be on the rise again, almost 25 years after a vaccine was created. In the parties, parents purposely expose healthy children to infected children
Bevin went on to say that the kids were ‘miserable for a few days’ after succumbing to chickenpox, but that ‘they all turned out fine.’ It’s unclear how old the children were when they were purposely infected.
The Republican governor’s goal was supposedly to help his children gain immunity to the disease, a move that experts are warning against.
So-called chickenpox parties, where healthy kids were put into close proximity of infected children, were supposedly popular in the days before a vaccine became available in 1995.
Parents who participated in the pox parties then and now are said to believe that by ensuring that their kids got and then fought off the chickenpox when they were young, they wouldn’t catch it when they were older and less able to get over it.
‘[It is] incorrect that getting the natural disease is going to make your immunity stronger so you don’t need a vaccine, which is a much safer option,’ pediatrician Dr. Natasha Burgert told INSIDER, adding that ‘People don’t realize that the reason we made vaccines is because they can’t kill kids.’
Experts say that exposing healthy children to those infected with chickenpox in a bid to help them gain immunity later in life is a gamble as the virus’ severity is unpredictable (stock)
Republican governor Matt Bevin (center) recently made headlines for revealing that he had purposely had all nine of his children (pictured) infected with chickenpox from a neighbor’s kid
Vaccines typically contain weakened or killed forms of disease microbes. When introduced into the body, the immune system recognizes the microbes and then destroys them, learning to do the same anytime those microbes reenter the body down the line.
As such, vaccines are seen as a safe way to boost the immune system, unlike exposing people to the virulent airborne version of the disease.
Burgert noted that it was a ‘gamble’ to purposefully infect even healthy children because the severity of chickenpox is ‘impossible to predict.’
‘Some kids will just get a few [chicken pox], some will die. You just don’t know, so we vaccinate everyone [we can],’ Burgert said.
The Centers for Disease Control agrees with that sentiment.
On its website, the CDC noted, ‘Chickenpox can be serious and can lead to severe complications and death, even in healthy children. There is no way to tell in advance how severe your child’s symptoms will be. So it is not worth taking the chance of exposing your child to someone with the disease. The best way to protect infants and children against chickenpox is to get them vaccinated.’
The apparently growing antivaxxer movement has gained more attention in recent years, particularly in the wake of measles outbreaks around the country over the past year.
Measles had previously been considered eliminated in the US in 2000, thanks to general measles vaccinations and corresponding herd immunity.
‘Vaccines are a victim of their own success,’ pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray told People. ‘When we didn’t have a chickenpox vaccine, parents would often decide to try to “get it over with,” thinking that teens and adults often had a worse time with the illness. However, the person who has the best time with the illness is the one who never gets it.’