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Prior to the availability of the chickenpox vaccine in the mid-90s, I recall the prevailing medical recommendation was to expose children to the virus at "chickenpox parties" with other kids who were sick.

(Today of course, there is a vaccine which is a more controlled way of gaining immunity.)

What aspects/conditions of the disease made these "chickenpox parties" recommended?

Have there been any similar approaches to any other viruses?

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    Can you provide a citation that this was ever medically recommended? I don't believe it ever was (and that doesn't mean people didn't do it), but it's hard to demonstrate a negative.
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Oct 20, 2020 at 21:08
  • @BryanKrause, good question...this is going off my memory of physician recommendations I'll see if I can find a medical journal from before the mid-90s. Even today, while they don't explicitly mention "parties," the UK NHS doesn't vaccinate for chickenpox because it would reduce in child-to-child spread of the disease. Commented Oct 21, 2020 at 13:48

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My recollection of that time was not that doctors recommended being exposed to chickenpox but rather that parents sometimes chose to expose their children at a time they felt might be more convenient for the family, since everyone would catch it eventually. Some recommended times to get it: while you only had one child to look after (subsequent children then each getting it one at a time), while it was summer and they could play outside without clothes that might hurt on rashed skin, before they started school so they wouldn't miss class time, and so on.

When the vaccine was new, there was uncertainty about how long the immunity lasted. My doctor recommended at that time that if a girl didn't get it by puberty, she should get the vaccine (chickenpox while you're pregnant is serious.) I believe the current recommendations are to get the vaccine and try to avoid catching the virus, which thanks to the vaccine is a strategy you can actually follow, since less kids now catch it.

Wikipedia says doctors have never recommended deliberately getting infected with anything, and it seems pretty easy for reporters doing a story on such parties to find a doctor who says it's a bad idea.

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