The shingles vaccine can prevent you from getting shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a common complication from shingles. Healthy adults ages 50 years and older should get the vaccine, which is given in two doses. Side effects are usually mild and can include pain, redness and swelling at the injection site. Serious reactions are rare.
The shingles vaccine can protect you against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is the most common complication of shingles. Shingles is a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. The rash usually develops on one side of your body or face. It starts with red bumps and then the bumps turn into fluid-filled blisters.
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The shingles vaccine can prevent shingles. Every year, about 1 million people in the United States get shingles. Anyone who’s had chickenpox can get shingles. That’s because the varicella-zoster virus lives silently in your nervous system after you've had chickenpox. The virus can reactivate later in your life if your immune system is weakened. Your risk of getting shingles goes up as you get older. In the United States, 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime.
In the United States, there is currently one shingles vaccine authorized for use. The shingles vaccine is called Shingrix™ (recombinant zoster vaccine). As of November 18, 2020, another shingles vaccine called Zostavax® is no longer available for use in the United States.
The CDC recommends all healthy adults ages 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine to prevent shingles and problems that can develop after you’ve had the disease. The two doses should be separated by two to six months. You should get the shingles vaccine even if you:
Some people shouldn’t get the shingles vaccine. These people include those:
Your healthcare provider will give you the shingles vaccine as an injection (shot) in your upper arm. You will get two doses of the vaccine separated by two to six months.
The shingles vaccine reduces your risk of getting shingles. Shingles causes a painful rash that usually develops on one side of your body or face. Some people describe the pain as an intense burning or shooting sensation. The rash is often a single strip that wraps around one side of your body or is on one side of your face. It consists of blisters that normally crust over in seven to 10 days. The rash generally clears up within a month.
For some people, the pain from the rash can last for months or even years after the rash goes away. This long-term pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), and it is the most common complication of shingles.
The shingles vaccine helps your body’s immune system build up a solid defense against shingles, so you may experience temporary side effects after getting the shots. These side effects may include:
Severe reactions to the shingles vaccine are extremely rare. If you develop any of the following signs of an allergic reaction, call 911 or go to your nearest ER:
The shingles vaccine can provide strong protection against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), the most commonly occurring shingles complication.
The shingles vaccine is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people ages 50 to 69 years old. It’s 91% effective in people ages 70 years and older.
In addition, the shingles vaccine is 91% effective in preventing PHN in people ages 50 to 69 years old. It’s 89% effective in people ages 70 years and older.
More than 85% of people ages 70 years and older remained protected from shingles for at least four years after they were vaccinated. Since your risk of shingles and PHN increases as you get older, it’s important to have strong protection against shingles in your older years.
While the shingles vaccine is highly effective, some people can still get shingles. However, people who do get shingles after getting the shingles vaccine usually have milder symptoms and a shorter illness. You’ll also be less likely to have complications from shingles, including postherpetic neuralgia.
Some people get shingles years after they received the chickenpox vaccine. However, it is much less common to get shingles after receiving the chickenpox vaccine than after having chickenpox.
It’s normal to have questions before you get a vaccine. Some common questions you may want to discuss with your healthcare provider include:
With the currently authorized shingles vaccine, Shingrix, you won’t be contagious. The old vaccine, Zostavax, used a weakened form of the live varicella-zoster virus. Therefore, people worried about spreading the disease to the people around them.
Shingrix doesn’t use a live version of the varicella-zoster virus. It is inactivated, which means it uses a dead version of the virus. Therefore, you have no risk of transmitting the disease to anyone.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
No one likes to get shots, especially for something you’ve already been vaccinated for. But the newer version of the shingles vaccine is one you’ll want to offer up your arm for. The Shingrix vaccine is more than 90% effective at helping you prevent shingles. Since most of us have had chickenpox in the past, the shingles vaccine is an easy way to prevent the dormant chickenpox virus from creeping up and hitting you again with shingles.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/13/2022.
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