Universal immunization of young children with 1 dose of varicella vaccine was recommended in the United States in 1995, and it has significantly decreased the incidence of chickenpox. Outbreaks of varicella, however, are reported among vaccinated children. Although vaccine effectiveness has usually been 85%, rates as low as 44% have been observed. Whether this is from primary or secondary vaccine failure-or both-is unclear. We tested serum samples from 148 healthy children immunized against varicella in New York, Tennessee, and California to determine their seroconversion rates, before and after 1 dose of Merck/Oka varicella vaccine. The median age at vaccination was 12.5 months; postvaccination serum samples were obtained on average 4 months later. Serum was tested for antibodies against varicella-zoster virus (VZV) by use of the previously validated sensitive and specific fluorescent antibody to membrane antigen (FAMA) assay. Of 148 healthy child vaccinees, 113 (76%) seroconverted, and 24% had no detectable VZV FAMA antibodies. Our data contrast with reported seroconversion rates of 86%-96% by other VZV antibody tests and suggest that many cases of varicella in immunized children are due to primary vaccine failure. A second dose of varicella vaccine is expected to increase seroconversion rates and vaccine effectiveness.
J. Infect. Dis.
Primary vaccine failure after 1 dose of varicella vaccine in healthy children.