Is a vaccine available to prevent shingles?

Two vaccines are available in the United States to reduce your chance of developing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. One vaccine, Zostavax®, has been available since 2006. The second vaccine, Shingrix®, has been available since 2017. Shingrix is recommended as the preferred vaccine by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of medical and public health experts.

Shingrix® (recombinant zoster vaccine) is given as a two-dose shot in the upper arm. You should receive the second dose (shot) two to six months after receiving the first. Shingrix has been shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia. Its effectiveness remains above 85% for at least four years after receiving the vaccine.

Due to high levels of demand for the Shingrix vaccine and a supply shortage, the vaccine manufacturer is managing the timing and distribution of the vaccine throughout the United States. It plans to continue to manage the availability of the vaccine and hopes to make available the same or increased number of doses and to shorten the wait time for delivery this year (2020).

Who should be vaccinated with Shingrix?

The Shingrix vaccine is recommended for those 50 years of age and older who are in good health.

You should get the Shingrix vaccine even if:

  • You have had shingles already.
  • You have been previously vaccinated with Zostavax (zoster vaccine live). (If you’ve been vaccinated with Zostavax, wait at least 8 weeks before getting vaccinated with Shingrix.)
  • You do not know for sure if you’ve ever had chickenpox.

Ask your healthcare provider, who knows your entire health history, if getting this vaccine is right for you.

Who should not be vaccinated with Shingrix?

You should not receive the Shingrix vaccine if you:

  • Have ever had a severe allergy to this vaccine or any ingredient in this vaccine.
  • Are breastfeeding or pregnant.
  • Currently have shingles.
  • Are somewhat ill or very ill and have a high fever.
  • Have tested negative for immunity to varicella zoster virus (get the chickenpox vaccine instead).

Ask your healthcare provider if the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh any potential risks.

What serious side effects should I watch for after getting the Shingrix vaccine?

Serious side effects from vaccines are extremely rare. However, call 911 or get to a hospital right away if you experience any of the following within minutes to hours after receiving Shingrix:

  • Swelling of the face or throat.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Hives.
  • Fast heartbeat.
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness.

If I’ve had shingles recently, how long should I wait before getting the Shingrix vaccine?

You can get the Shingrix vaccine any time after the shingles rash has gone away.

Is the Zostavax vaccine still being used?

Yes. It is still recommended for preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia in healthy people age 50 and older. (The CDC, however, recommends Zostavax for adults age 60 and older.) Zostavax is given as a single-dose shot versus the two-dose shot for Shingrix. Zostavax is less effective than Shingrix in preventing shingles (51% vs over 90%) and postherpetic neuralgia (67% vs more than 90%).

Zostavax can be considered if you are allergic to Shingrix or if Shingrix is unavailable due to supply shortage and you want some immediate protection from a possible case of shingles and/or postherpetic neuralgia. Because it is a weakened live vaccine, it may be dangerous if you have cancer, HIV, take steroids or chemotherapy or other medications that suppress your immune system. Ask your healthcare provider if the Zostavax vaccine is an option for you.

Do I need to stay away from children, pregnant women, people with cancer or anyone with a weak immune system after I get the Zostavax vaccine?

According to the CDC, it is safe to be around babies and young children, pregnant women or anyone with a weakened immune system after you get the Zostavax vaccine. Even though the Zostavax vaccine contains a weakened live varicella zoster virus, the CDC says there is no documented case of a person getting chickenpox from someone who has received the Zostavax vaccine. (And a person can’t get shingles unless they have already had chickenpox.)

If I have previously received the Zostavax vaccine, how long should I wait before getting the Shingrix vaccine?

If you have previously received the Zostavax vaccine, the CDC recommends waiting at least eight weeks before getting the Shingrix vaccine.

If I get the shingles vaccine, does this mean I’m 100% protected from getting shingles?

No, just like most vaccines, getting vaccinated doesn’t provide 100% protection from disease. However, getting the shingles vaccine reduces your risk of developing shingles. Even if you do develop shingles, you’ll be more likely to have a mild case. Also, you’ll be much less likely to develop postherpetic neuralgia, the painful condition that can follow a shingles outbreak.

If I have a medical condition that suppresses my immune system, should I get the shingles vaccine?

Having a weakened immune system can increase the likelihood of getting shingles, so that’s even more of a reason to get the shingles vaccine. However, you must get the Shingrix vaccine, which is not made from a live virus (The older – and still available – vaccine Zostavax is made from a weakened live virus and should not be given to people with weakened immune systems.)

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