Vaccination of healthy children against varicella using the live attenuated Oka vaccine has been available in Japan and south Korea for several years. In 1996, a programme of universal vaccination of children to prevent varicella was introduced in the USA and other countries, including Canada, Germany, and Sweden, have licensed the vaccine for use in healthy children. This article reviews the origin of the Oka vaccine and the evidence for vaccine safety and efficacy in children and adults. Universal vaccination of children and targeted vaccination of groups at risk of severe varicella are discussed. The possible use of the Oka vaccine to prevent zoster is reviewed, and initiatives to develop new varicella zoster virus vaccines are outlined.