Varicella Virus Vaccine Live: A 22-Year Review of Postmarketing Safety Data

Open Forum Infect Dis. 2019 Aug 1;6(8):ofz295. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofz295.


Background: Varicella, a contagious infectious disease caused by varicella zoster virus (VZV), can result in hospitalization and, occasionally, death. Varicella virus vaccine live (VVVL [VARIVAX]) was introduced in the United States in 1995.

Methods: This comprehensive review of the VVVL safety profile is based on 22 years of postmarketing adverse event (AE) data received through spontaneous and noninterventional study reports submitted by health care providers and on a review of the published literature (cumulatively from March 17, 1995, through March 16, 2017, during which period >212 million doses were distributed globally).

Results: The VVVL safety profile was consistent with previous publications, with common AEs including varicella, rash, and pyrexia. AE reports have decreased over time, from ~500 per million doses in 1995 to ~40 per million doses in 2016; serious AEs comprise 0.8 reports per million doses. Secondary transmission was rare (8 confirmed cases); polymerase chain reaction analysis indicated that 38 of the 66 reported potential secondary transmission cases of varicella were attributable to wild-type VZV. The prevalence of major birth defects in the Pregnancy Registry was similar to that in the general US population. In total, 86 cases of death were reported after vaccination with VVVL; immunocompromised individuals appeared to be most at risk for a fatal varicella- or herpes zoster-related outcome.

Conclusions: This comprehensive 22-year review confirms the overall safety profile for VVVL, with no new safety concerns identified. Since VVVL's introduction in 1995, notable declines in varicella cases and in varicella-related deaths have occurred compared with the prevaccination period.

Keywords: postmarketing; safety; varicella; varicella vaccine; varicella zoster vaccine.