Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine

Your child can get a free chickenpox vaccination when they’re 15 months old. It’s also free for 11 year olds who have not been vaccinated already or if they have not had a confirmed chickenpox infection. People planning a pregnancy are strongly recommended to check their immunity to chickenpox.

What the chickenpox vaccine protects you from

Chickenpox (varicella) is a common highly infectious childhood illness which causes an itchy, blistering rash. Symptoms also include fever, aches and pains, and feeling tired.

Infections are normally mild, but chickenpox can make some people very sick. It’s usually more severe in rangatahi (young people) and adults and for people with a weakened immune system.

Find out more about chickenpox – IMAC

Pregnancy and chickenpox

Chickenpox during pregnancy can harm unborn babies and cause stillbirth. If you’re planning a pregnancy and are not able to find out if you’ve had chickenpox, or if you haven’t been vaccinated, it’s strongly recommended you get a chickenpox vaccine before becoming pregnant. 

Immunisation and pregnancy

When the chickenpox vaccine is given

At 15 months old

1 free chickenpox vaccine is offered to tamariki when they’re 15 months old.

Chickenpox vaccine catch-ups are free until your tamariki turns 12 years old. If your tamariki has had chickenpox they do not need the vaccine.

Catching up if your child has missed an immunisation

The vaccine will protect around 4 out of 5 tamariki from getting chickenpox. Up to 1 in 5 may still get infected, but symptoms are generally less severe.

Additional paid dose

Tamariki can also can get an additional dose, 3 months before or after the 15 month dose, to improve the vaccine's effectiveness – but this extra dose is not free.

Everyone 12 years old and over

For everyone else, chickenpox immunisation is available in New Zealand at a cost. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or healthcare provider if you’d like the chickenpox vaccination for yourself or your child.

Pregnant people and some immunocompromised people cannot have the chickenpox vaccine.

Booking a vaccination appointment

Catching up if your child has missed an immunisation

Which vaccine is used

The free vaccine we use for children in New Zealand is Varivax®.

It’s given as an injection, normally into a muscle in their arm or leg.

Information about Varivax – Medsafe

Side effects and reactions

Like most medicines, vaccines can sometimes cause reactions. These are usually mild, and not everyone will get them.

Mild reactions are normal and show that your child’s immune system is responding to the vaccine.

If your tamariki is going to have any reactions, they normally happen in the first few days after getting vaccinated. The vaccine itself is gone from your child's body within a few hours or days.

The most common reaction to an immunisation includes:

  • a slight fever
  • pain or swelling where the needle went in.

Other common reactions

Other common reactions of the chickenpox vaccine include:

  • headache
  • feeling unwell, tired or weak
  • a mild rash (between 5 and 26 days after immunisation)

Serious side effects are rare. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your doctor or nurse, or call Healthline for free on 0800 611 116.

Call 111 if you’re worried your child is having a serious reaction.

How to treat common reactions

Allergic reactions

Serious allergic reactions are extremely rare. Only about 1 in 1 million people will experience this.

Your vaccinator is well-trained and knows what to look for and can treat an allergic reaction quickly if it happens.

Serious allergic reactions normally happen within the first few minutes of vaccination. This is why your tamariki need to wait for up to 20 minutes after immunisation.

Page last updated: 25 Jul 2023