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Chicken Pox Vaccine Doing The Job

A new study suggests the vaccine being used to fight the once-common childhood disease of chicken pox is paying off in many ways.

The Early Show medical correspondent, Dr. Emily Senay, says the vaccine prevents the once-common childhood illness in 80 percent of those who get it, and makes symptoms less severe in those who come down with chicken pox even after getting the vaccine.

"It works very well in protecting people from the serious complications, and that's really what you want to prevent," Senay told co-anchor Russ Mitchell.

And the new study shows the impact that can have on the health care system.

"The researchers wanted to see what the benefit was, at least as far as public health issues, like hospitalizations and doctor visits, and actual cost to society. They actually found a great improvement since the (vaccine's) introduction in 1995.

"They found that hospitalizations have gone down almost 90 percent. Doctor visits have gone down 60 percent. And the cost of the vaccine, even though it costs something to produce and give it, is much less than the savings that come from these reductions in hospitalizations. And they didn't even look at what they call indirect costs. That includes the money saved when parents don't have to stay home from work, and when schools don't have problems with absences. So there's a tremendous amount of savings all around. This is really an indication from a public health standpoint that the vaccine is a tremendous benefit."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 81 percent of kids are getting the vaccine, though officials want that figure to grow.

Babies should be getting vaccinated up to the age of 18 months, Senay says. That's when the first shot should be given. However, children between 12 months and 13 years old need only one dose of the vaccine. If you're older than 13, you'll need two doses. That's something for parents to keep in mind, because a lot of kids haven't had that shot for whatever reason since it was introduced. Adults also can get the vaccine and again, two doses. If you've had chicken pox, you don't need the vaccine.

Senay reassures viewers that there's no need to worry about the possible link between mercury in some vaccines and autism: "It's a source of a lot of debate. There really is no good scientific evidence of a link there. Nevertheless, people are concerned about it.

"This vaccine does not contain mercury, and that's what parents are most concerned about, as it's linked to some of these neurological problems. Right now, there's no good evidence that there's a link there."