Parents in the developed world no longer worry about their children contracting chickenpox (varicella) thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, available in the US since 1995 (20 years after it was introduced in other countries).
The man responsible for this life saving vaccine, Dr. Michiaki Takahashi, died on Monday (the same day as Monto Ho, who I wrote about it yesterday).
Prior to the introduction of this vaccine in the US, 4 million cases, up to 18,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths from chickenpox occurred annually. Now that the vaccine is in widespread use, these numbers have declined drastically.
However, the gains achieved by Dr. Takahasi's vaccine are currently under threat by those who, instead of availing themselves of the protection afforded by the vaccine, engage in "chickenpox parties" to knowingly expose their children to this pathogen.
I first heard of these "parties" while on a medical student rotation in England in 1999, before the vaccine was available in the UK. As a medical student I was completely baffled by this ritual then and, now, as an infectious disease physician my incredulity has exponentially increased.
As someone who grew up prior to the vaccine's US introduction and contracted chickenpox in the 8th grade (much later than many of my classmates), I have a special affection for this vaccine.
The only party we should be having with respect to chickenpox is one in honor of Dr. Takahasi, celebrating his achievement and the benefit we all derive from it.