Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pox Parties

I want to say this with humility and grace. A day or two ago, I wanted to come on here and say it with guns blazing. That's the problem with being a justice girl. Everything is black and white and when an injustice is perceived, there is little inclination to consider all sides. 

In this instance, I took some time. 

Twice this past week, from two different people in two different circles, the idea of a pox party was brought to my attention. I admit, the concept was not entirely new to me. We are a homeschooling family, after all, and homeschoolers, for whatever reason, often tend to be of a crunchy bent. I never really paid attention to the idea of it before. It wasn't something that was on my radar. 

For the uninitiated, let me explain. A pox party is when the parent of a child with an active case of chickenpox alerts non-vaccinating parents so that they can get their kids together in hopes that those who have not yet had chickenpox will get infected. The idea is to have their children get this childhood illness over early and develop the natural immunity that comes with it. There are countless Facebook groups dedicated to connecting these families. 

As one who contracted chickenpox at the ripe old age of twenty-three from a patient who had shingles, I do like the idea of getting it as a child better. I had pox in every possible orifice, including down my throat and inside of my ears. I have never been so miserable and I have birthed seven children, some of them without medication and have had giant kidney stones on multiple occasions. But, I digress.

There is a vaccine for chickenpox. Many, many people had chickenpox as children and it was not a big deal. Those people roll their eyes and think the government has gone a little loopy and it is just one more unnecessary medical intervention and, of course, it's all about the money. And they may be right. It certainly is not a disease that comes anywhere near polio. However, before the chickenpox vaccine, 100 to 150 American children died yearly of chickenpox. One in 400 children were hospitalized, many with neurological conditions such as encephalitis, meningitis, convulsions, and even strokes. Within six years of the varicella vaccine being licensed, hospitalizations related to the infection dropped by 75%. Does the vaccine pose a risk? Of course. Every medical intervention has risks. But the risks and reported side affects of this particular vaccine are generally minor. 

Talking you into the vaccine, however, is not the point of this post. I think the reason it was on my radar and prompted this post when pox parties came up this time, is that now I have spent time in the world of special needs. I've walked the halls of the children's hospitals so many times, they feel like a second home, and I have healthy kids. But so many of my fellow parents on this journey do not. Many of them have children who are immunosuppressed. Their immune systems are not functioning as they should and they are at greater risk of developing illnesses.

Those children do not have the luxury of getting the vaccine that others are choosing to decline. What is a simple childhood illness for your child, can be a death sentence for them. 

A person is contagious for 1 - 2 days before the onset of the rash until the lesions have crusted over. A person usually contracts the illness between 10 - 21 days after exposure. In other words, a child could come down with chickenpox on average anytime between one and a half to three weeks after a pox party and will be contagious for a day or two before they know they have it.

So, here's my question for those of you who plan to send your kids to a pox party. 
Are you willing to keep them at home for up to two weeks while they may be contagious?
Because while the parents of those immunosuppressed children I talked about are less likely to have their kids out in public, sometimes it's unavoidable. One chance encounter with your infected child in the produce aisle could be the death of another child. 

I'm not being dramatic. Those 100 to 150 children who died each year from chickenpox before the varicella vaccine generally had underlying medical conditions, conditions that caused them to be immunosuppressed. Conditions that allowed a simple, normal, childhood illness to take their hope, their future, and their very last breath. 

See, you are free to choose. Vaccinate, don't vaccinate, partially vaccinate. Whatever. These parents don't have that luxury. They are counting on herd immunity for the life of their child. And if not that, then they are counting on common sense and decency from fellow parents. 

Recognize that these children exist, that they are fragile, and they are precious to those that love them, just as your children are to you. If you do choose to expose your children to a childhood illness, please keep them home until the risk of spreading it has passed.


  1. We got it when one of my vax'd kids brought it home. Yes, it was caught from a family who had intentionally exposed. No, I was not happy. I wanted my kids to get it "naturally," but I was hoping to, you know, not have a *baby* when that happened. But it did. And we survived. But we also went into lockdown while we waited for all the others to fall ill. Because folks, that's the responsible thing to do. (And btw, my third kid to get it got it *20* days after exposure. So ... that 2 week window? Uhhhh.... yeah....)

  2. Thank you!! As a parent of an immunosupressed child, I often find myself explaining WHY I choose not to be around people who are ill. I am sharing this on my Facebook wall, and I hope those that choose to not vaccinate realize what the risks are to those who are like my youngest daughter.

  3. *wild applause* from my corner. I am seriously pro-vaccination. I'm not rabid about it...but I truly believe that vaccines save lives. And I can tell you that when our state recently had a measles outbreak before my infant had gotten the vaccine for it, I seriously did not take him anywhere public if it could possibly be avoided.
    While most people see chicken pox as a minor nuisance, I caught it in 4th grade, and broke out in spots AT SCHOOL, which means that my entire class was exposed as well unintentionally. I had infected pox and let me tell you, that is some pretty nasty stuff and would be worse for a child with a compromised immune system. Thanks for putting the facts out there. I for one appreciate the time you took to research. :)

  4. The chicken pox vaccine is a live virus vaccine, so by rights, anyone receiving that or any other live virus vaccine or booster should stay out of circulation for a week or two after receiving the vaccine in order to avoid presenting immunosuppressed individuals with the risk of infection. I know this because when my husband was undergoing chemo five years ago, we were told not to allow our kids to receive any live virus vaccines or boosters because he could become infected by indirect contact with the vaccine. However, I seriously doubt that most people are advised - or would be willing - to keep their kids home for a week or two after receiving live virus vaccines or boosters in order to protect hypothetical strangers in the general population.

    1. Lisa, I did not know that it was a live virus vaccine and, therefore has the capacity to infect others! Thank you for bringing that to our attention.

  5. The first time I heard about Pox Pops (lollipops licked by children who have the chicken pox) that you could get for your kid, I was totally grossed out. On another note, when we got the chicken pox vaccine, we were told to lay low. I did not mind getting that vax done for my kids just because I remembered how awful it was when I contracted chicken pox the old-fashioned way.

  6. Interesting... Wondering if I should have my two year old vaccinated before we bring our special needs girlie home?

  7. Hi! I'm new to your blog. I've never heard of a pox party before. I'm glad you explained it. I had the pox as a kid and now I'm thinking about when my kids will get it...Youch. I'm looking forward to reading more about your adoption process and your family!

  8. I was like you Tara. I came down with them on day 21. I was 22 years old and 16 weeks pregnant with my second baby. This was before the vaccine was available. I was sooooo terribly sick, and in the hospital for four days (on extreme lock down!!!!) because of severe dehydration. I developed pneumonia and spent the REST OF MY PREGNANCY on inhaled steroids because I couldn't breath.
    "If a pregnant woman gets chickenpox while in the first or early second trimester of pregnancy, there is a small chance (0.4 – 2.0%) that the baby could be born with birth defects known as "congenital varicella syndrome." Babies born with congenital varicella syndrome may be of low birthweight and have scarring of the skin and problems with arms, legs, brain, and eyes."
    My son does have several scars on his back and face. He does have neurological problems (he didn't talk until he was 5, and even then was unintelligible."
    We recently adopted a new little guy. He had been with us for 8 months before we found out he wasn't vaccinated, nor has he had the CP. I don't know if we would have taken him had we known that. Why? Because of the kids living in my house, one is extremely medically fragile (6 of the last 10 weeks have been spent in the hospital, some of that in PICU) Although she was vaccinated for CP, titer testing shows she is not immune.
    Having 5 internationally adopted kids in my house, I am of the personal belief that if you bring an internationally adopted child into a house full of unvaccinated kids, you are playing with fire. But that is me, and my house.
    And yes about the live vaccine. I was told the same when I was on chemo.