• The Center for Vaccine Awareness and Research
  • Herpes Zoster (Shingles)

    This vaccine is important because it protects against Shingles, a painful skin rash also called herpes zoster infection. Each year, at least one million people in the United States get shingles. Shingles is more common in people more than 50 years of age than in younger people. It is also more common in people with weakened immune systems such as people suffering from cancer or in those taking drugs that affect the immune system.

    Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, VZV remains in the nerve cells of the body and can reappear years later causing shingles. Shingles causes pain, itching and a tingling of the skin and the person then develops a painful rash with blisters usually in a confined area on one side of the body, often the face or trunk. Sometimes other symptoms such as fever, headache, chills and upset stomach occur. The pain may be very severe and rarely shingles can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or death.

    Who should receive the zoster vaccine?

    Adults aged 60 years and older should get a single dose of the zoster vaccine. The vaccine can be given to someone with a minor illness, such as a cold, but anyone with a moderate or severe illness, including fever over 101.3ºF, should wait until they are better before getting the vaccine.

    Those who should not be vaccinated with the zoster vaccine include:

     

    • People who have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the vaccine
    • People who have a weakened immune system (for example those with HIV or other immunodeficiency, people undergoing therapy for cancer, a history of cancer of the bone marrow or lymphatic system, or those taking steroids or other drugs that affect the immune system)
    • People with active tuberculosis who have not been treated
    • People who are or might become pregnant. Pregnancy should be delayed for at least 3 months after getting the vaccine

    Review the vaccination schedule for those who start late on a vaccine or are more than one month behind.

    When did the zoster vaccine become available?

    In 2006, the zoster vaccine was FDA licensed for use in the United States

    How does someone become infected with Herpes zoster or Shingles?

    Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once a person has had chickenpox, VZV remains in the nerve cells of the body and can reappear on the skin years later causing shingles.

    How effective is the zoster vaccine?

    In clinical trials, the zoster vaccine prevented shingles in about one half of adults aged 60 years and older. Even when the vaccine did not prevent shingles, the vaccine reduced the pain and discomfort of in two thirds of people who got shingles. The vaccine was most effective in people aged from 60 to 69 years old but it also gave some protection for older groups.

    Are there any serious side-effects of the zoster vaccine?

    Mild side effects may include:

     

    • Injection-site soreness and redness in about one third of people
    • Headache (about 1 person out of every 70 who receive the vaccine

    No serious problems have been found with the zoster vaccine. In very rare cases, a serious allergic reaction may occur.

    How do I learn more about this vaccine?

    The best person to ask about this vaccine or any vaccine is your primary health care provider. Your provider can answer your questions and you more information on the zoster vaccine.

    Immunization is the best thing you can do for yourself to protect against shingles.

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