For Americans, chickenpox vaccine history is a story of improving childhood. The itchy rash and signature red spots were common. It spread from their head down their abdomen and covered the rest of them in blisters. Even their nose and mouth weren’t safe from the “Varicella” virus, which we nicknamed, the “chickenpox.”
Today, chickenpox is far less common. It’s no longer certain that children will endure this 2-week period of itching and ridicule. The chickenpox vaccine history dates back to the 19th century. It involves long periods of mystery, followed by breakthroughs in the 20th century that gave us the full working vaccine in the 1990s.
Read on to learn the history of the chickenpox vaccine and how it makes modern childhood safer (and less itchy).
Early Vaccine History
Varicella, the infectious viral disease that causes chickenpox, has been known for centuries. However, varicella was often confused with smallpox until around 1875. A scientist named Steiner showed the difference by inoculating patients using fluid from people already infected. At that point, we knew that true varicella infections could be cured with the right methods.
Scientists use cell cultures to try and separate viruses from the fluids of infected people. By observing infected lesions using this method, Thomas Weller isolated varicella in 1954. This meant that a working vaccine was only a matter of time.
Therefore, lab tests continued throughout the 20th century. In the 1970s, a lab in Japan successfully isolated the vaccine. In 1995, the chickenpox vaccine became licensed for widespread use in the United States.
Thus, chickenpox was removed from childhood in this country. Cases became rare, limited only to the children of parents who refused the vaccine for personal reasons. Once, 4 million children came down with chickenpox in the United States every year. With the vaccine, virtually none do today.
Controversies Over the Chickenpox Vaccine
The modern history of the chickenpox vaccine also includes some controversy. Vaccines by nature contain some of the disease. Therefore, some people remain suspicious of their contents.
Opposition to vaccination is not new. In the 1800s, many people opposed the smallpox vaccine because it contained part of a cowpox blister. Others opposed it for religious reasons. In the 1970s, this opposition became a full-blown movement (“anti-vaxxers”) when vaccines were suspected of causing mental conditions. Today, fear of giving their children autism is the most widespread belief in the United States that could cause a parent to deny their child the chickenpox vaccine.
According to the CDC, these risks are very low. However, this does not prevent chickenpox vaccine history from hitting many modern roadblocks. Many people still prefer to endure chickenpox rather than innoculate their children.
Chickenpox vaccine history involves slow innovation. For many centuries, scientists couldn’t even tell the difference between chickenpox and smallpox. However, the 1900s saw many laboratory advances that allowed us to finally remove it from childhood forever.
Even though some still distrust the idea of vaccines, millions of children no longer suffer through this highly contagious disease.