Why do parents buy chickenpox lollies?

Boy being vaccinated Vaccination has effectively wiped out many diseases in the developed world

US authorities have warned parents that posting infected lollipops to other families who want their children to get chickenpox is against the law. But why are the parents doing it?

The news that some parents have been apparently posting saliva-soaked tissues and licked lollipops to each other in an attempt to spread chickenpox among their children has been greeted with widespread condemnation.

Doctors have cautioned that licking a supposedly infected lollipop is unlikely to pass on chickenpox - which is mostly an airborne virus - but could expose a child to other, more serious ailments.

And Jerry Martin, US attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, warned that anyone attempting to send so-called "pox packages" through the mail would be breaking federal laws against shipping biohazards across state lines.

The Facebook page on which parents were discussing "pox packages" - Find a Pox Party In Your Area - has now ceased to exist.

The idea of allowing your child to catch chickenpox - perhaps by taking them to pox parties - to avoid getting it in later life when it can be more serious, is not a new one. But the use of the postal service and social media represents a new phase.

So why do parents do it?

Chickenpox facts

  • Chickenpox is so called to distinguish it from the stronger version of the pox - smallpox
  • Caused by the Varicella zoster virus
  • Spreads through the air and direct contact with fluid from blisters
  • Spots usually appear two-three weeks after contact
  • Thought to number 600,000 cases per year in the UK
  • Vaccination common in many developed countries including US and Germany
  • Complications can include pneumonia and the brain condition encephalitis
  • Once infected, may return as shingles in later life

Meg, who until recently ran a Facebook page called Find a Pox Party Near You, told BBC News: "My son had a life threatening reaction to his vaccinations. He developed chronic encephalitis, seizures and a 105.7-degree temperature. He was never the same after those vaccinations.

"Our children's doctor advised me to never vaccinate my other children because I would run a high risk of them having the same kind of reaction."

She said she had been forced to shut down her page after the backlash over the lollipop story, even though she had carried a prominent warning against sending pox packages through the mail "because we have known that it has been going on for years".

She intends to continue facilitating "pox parties" away from the glare of the media, after compiling a database of interested parents.

In the US, unlike in the UK, children are vaccinated against chickenpox. It is one of nearly a dozen inoculations that American youngsters must undergo - exemptions apart - by the time they reach the age of six.

That's twice as many as their counterparts in the UK, where public concern over childhood vaccines has largely died down after the work of Dr Andrew Wakefield, linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, was discredited.

US vaccines (0 to 6 years)

  • Hepatitis B
  • Rotavirus
  • Diptheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis
  • Influenzae type b
  • Pneumococcal
  • Inactivated Poliovirus
  • Influenza
  • Measles, Mumps Rubella
  • Varicella (chickenpox)
  • Hepatitis A

Dr Wakefield was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council last year after it found him guilty of serious professional misconduct over the way he carried out his research.

It is a different story in the US, however, where a celebrity-driven campaign against vaccines has kept the issue in the public eye.

Movie action hero Chuck Norris is the latest well-known name to weigh in to the debate, in an article for a conservative website.

Some parents object to what they see as the dictatorial nature of the US vaccine programme, which, they argue, leaves them little choice over what is being put into their children's bodies.

Campaigner Robert Schecter, who runs the Facebook group Proud Parents of Unvaccinated Children, claims the pharmaceutical industry is a key driving force behind the growth in childhood immunisation in the US.

UK vaccines (0 to 6 years)

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio
  • Pneumococcal conjugate
  • Influenzae type b
  • Meningitis C
  • Measles, mumps and rubella

"By no means is it a conspiracy, but there are vested interests working together," he says.

A self-styled libertarian, who ensured his own daughter did not receive any vaccinations, he dismisses public health officials as "paternalistic do-gooders" who "get satisfaction out of what they believe to be helping people" when in fact they are doing no such thing.

Vaccination sceptics like Mr Schecter can produce reams of statistics which they claim show public health officials have exaggerated the seriousness of diseases and "covered-up" safety concerns.

They even dismiss figures from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention that cases of measles tripled last year, pointing to the fact that were there still only 220 cases and no deaths. The disease is also on the rise in Europe, where there were 29,000 cases and nine deaths in the first seven months of 2011.

"There is a very great deal of scepticism and questioning out there. Part of it comes from the very great success of vaccination programmes," says infectious diseases expert Dr William Shaffner, of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.

Find A Pox Party Near You Some sites warned against sending 'pox packages' but were still targeted by public anger

"The current generation of young mothers have very little experience of disease.

"Even the experience they have had of chickenpox has been with a much less severe form, with fewer complications. It is seen as a relatively transient illness not worthy of much respect."

But, he argues, chickenpox and measles can both still be very serious diseases, particularly if there are complications.

And he blames the Andrew Wakefield case for undermining public confidence in the US and the UK, even though it is a decade since the MMR scare hit the headlines.

"It is impossible to unring a bell. There are still many people who believe that vaccines and, in particular, the measles vaccine, is linked to autism.

"The whole controversy fuelled a general scepticism about vaccination and a belief that the 'the natural way is the best way'"


And he adds: "The internet plays a substantial role, particularly among upper middle class, young mothers, who are used, in their professional lives, to researching things on their computers.

"Unfortunately, they can not always make a clear distinction between information and misinformation."

The scientists who strived to develop vaccines to common diseases "would be aghast and scratching their heads as they attempted to understand how this extraordinary boon, which along with clean water is one of the most effective public health interventions of the 20th Century, could be denied," says Dr Shaffner.

But, at the same time, he says he does have a "a great deal of sympathy and understanding" for vaccination-weary parents in the United States.

"There is a debate about whether we have come to the limit of what we might call the pincushion effect on children, because there are a lot of jabs."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    #66.David Cohen

    "Japan stopped vaccinating the under-2's and cot death disappeared."

    A quick trawl through the internet tells me:

    This is only claimed on websites not subject to any scientific scrutiny.

    Babies in Japan still die of cot death. It has not disappeared. Japan even has a Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Family Association.

    The evidence in peer-reviewed science shows no increased risk.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    The most likely reason that anyone will die from Chicken Pox is if they take an Aspirin. This is not as well known as it should be

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    How things change!

    When I was a child in the 40/50s it was pretty much taken for granted that children would at some point get Chicken pox, Mumps, German Measles and Whooping cough.

    You suffered for a few days ,maybe got a couple of weeks away from school and that was that...you weren't likely to get it again.

    I think maybe we are just a bit to keen to vaccinate against everything now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Americans - always good for a laugh.

    71. My grandmother smoked 280 a day and is still alive at 132, so put that in your pipe and smoke it (so to speak).

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    There is one thing I don't understand: why are those vaccinated afraid of those unvaccinated? Aren't vaccination supposed to prevent you from getting those illnesses? If you are vaccinated, why do you worry those who aren't because there is no way you will ever get that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    When I was younger measles and chickenpox practically emptied whole years of school every year. I cannot recall a single death or serious complication.

    I also believe big pharmacy companies didn't make too much money out of it in those days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.


    @54 LJ. Are you saying you caught Infertility in later life? Lol

    No, he is likely to be reffering to mumps ! I caught it when I was 17. I hope you never find out that some so called children's illnesses definetly aint funny if you catch them as an adult !

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @59, DenisB
    German Measles may have been mild for your children, if, however, while they had it a pregnant woman had been exposed to it it would not have been minor for her - it can do serious damage to unborn babies. Vaccination in that instance doesn't just protect the child but society in general.

    Homeopathic "medicine" is JUST sugar pills. A placebo, and nothing more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.


    Perhaps you rabid pro vaccine posters should read some facts.

    1) The vaccine does carry serious side effects - of course rare, but then so are serious side effects from the disease itself.

    2) You can still end up with shingles from taking the vaccine .. you can have anothe jab every year once you are in your 50's, lucky you!!

    3) Chickenpox only kills the weak.

    I'm more worried by TB

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    It would be good to see figures revealing the risks of complications and deaths due to childhood illnesses next to those of having the vaccinations.There are many severe adverse reactions to vaccinations which are not highlighted nor fully investigated.Furthermore it would be good to research neurological effects(M.S.etc) in later life as kids of the 60s onwards are guinea-pigs of this movement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    When pregnant I did lots of research & went to classes so I could make an informed choice how to give birth. I chose no drugs. I also chose not to take medication while breast feeding. Then suddenly we are told to have our child injected with strange chemicals and no one would give us any information on risk v benefit. It felt careless to just take the govt's word on it- we want informed choice

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @66 David Cohen

    Did Japan's cot death fall because of other changes e.g. sleeping babies on their backs, mums not sleeping with baby in bed etc? There are a number of precipitating factors, but I cannot believe vaccination is a cause of cot death, If you are a medic, you really should know better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Over here in Germany, which I consider a rather developed country, NO vaccine is compulsory. Every federal state issues vaccine recommendations (which more or less are as extensive as those in the USA), which are heeded by the vast majority of the public, but the decision whether to vaccine or not is left to the individual. It's your responsibility to decide how (much) you protect your children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    When I was growing up in the late 1960's I had measles, Mumps and Chicken Pox. Although it didn't happen me some of my mates were were encouraged to catch all three. I remember two in particular whose mothers took them to an infected child to catch measles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @AFunkyMonk (65)
    Catching Mumps in later life can cause infertility in men

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    "survivial of the fittest? I had no jabs and I'm just fine. Aload of hype"

    Oh I do so love it when people dismiss years of scientific research in favour of their own anecdotal evidence! "My grandmother smoked 50 a day and lived to be 100, so smoking *can't* be bad for you!".

    You had no jabs and you're find because YOU GOT LUCKY.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Suckers! It's April 1st!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.


    And you have tha audacity to say 'we're' missing the point!? Have you not bothered to brush up on your immunology homework as of late?

    Chicken Pox can still be a deadly disease to a statisticaly important section of society (kids and adults), not to mention having complications wel into later life for some children (ie shingles as mentioned in the article).

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    just look in Victorian-era graveyards at the hundreds of child graves if you don't think vaccines have helped our children reach adulthood. The sheer number speak for themselves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @39 sceptik - over-population is not a consequence of successful vaccination programmes. It is the poorest parts of the world with the highest levels of child mortality where population is increasing. Improvements in health and wealth dramatically reduce population growth - check out the birth-rate in the richest, healthiest countries.)


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