Exposure of immunocompromised children to varicella often requires postexposure prophylaxis. Exposures requiring this management are often not recognized. Varicella can be a severe disease when it occurs in immunocompromised children, in spite of antiviral therapy. Varicella exposure and varicella in these children can also disrupt scheduled therapy for their underlying illness. Both postexposure prophylaxis and treatment of varicella are likely to be expensive and use significant medical resources. Numerous trials have been undertaken to vaccinate children who are immunocompromised by a variety of conditions and therapies that depress their immune function.

Clinical trials of varicella vaccine administration to immunocompromised children that were reported since 1975 were identified in the Ovid medical database. Reports were selected for analysis and discussion on the basis of their completeness and the utility of their conclusions.

Vaccination before immune compromise is discussed as a strategy for some settings. The obstacles, potential opportunities, and success in varicella vaccination for immunocompromised children are separately analyzed for (1) children with leukemia and other malignancies, (2) human immunodeficiency virus-infected children, and (3) children with hematopoietic stem cell or solid-organ transplantation.

Vaccination before immune compromise is often successful, and the vaccine-induced response is usually partially or fully protective. In many treatment settings, it is possible to safely vaccinate once the level of immune suppression has been reduced. Targets for future research are outlined. A consensus conference should be undertaken to develop guidelines for the use of varicella vaccine in immunocompromised children.

Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 197, SUPPL. 2, S200-S206