Shingles Vaccine—A Preventive for a Painful Virus

One of Doris’s weekly bridge partners canceled. The friend had a terrible case of shingles. She advised Doris to get the shingles vaccine.

Doris had never heard of the vaccine, but she knew shingles were very painful, and she knew she didn’t want to get it.

Julia K. C. Sherrill, MD, Family Medicine – Taylor Clinic, discusses the benefits of the shingles vaccine for people in their 50s and 60s.

What Is Shingles?

Shingles is a flare-up of the latent chickenpox virus that remains harbored in your nerves. It starts as a rash that blisters then crusts over. It’s very painful.

It primarily affects people in their 60s, though it can plague any age.

What Is the Shingles Vaccine?

“The shingles vaccine is a live attenuated vaccine,” says Dr. Sherrill. That means it’s a vaccine prepared from live microorganisms or functional viruses whose disease-producing ability has been weakened but whose immunogenic properties have not.

“I would recommend it to everyone in this age group.”


In other words, it will spur your body to make antibodies against the disease but you can’t get sick from it.

In 2006 the Food & Drug Administration approved the vaccine “to help prevent shingles for use the in the ideal age group of 60 and older,” Dr. Sherrill says. In March 2011 the FDA approved it for ages 50 to 59.

How Effective Is the Vaccine?

“The efficacy of the shingles vaccine is 69.8 percent. About two-thirds of the time it will work. People who’ve had shingles will say it’s worth it to avoid the pain that comes with shingles,” says Dr. Sherrill.

If you develop shingles despite receiving the vaccine, studies show the severity of shingles is significantly reduced, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The vaccine lasts about six years, but may last a little longer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Who Should Get the Vaccine?

“I would recommend it to everyone in this age group,” says Dr. Sherrill.

You should consider getting the vaccine if you’re 60 years of age or older, even if you don’t recall having chickenpox as a child. The CDC reports that more than 99 percent of Americans age 40 and older had chickenpox as children, even if they don’t remember it.

Your risk of getting shingles increases as you age, according to the CDC.

Dr. Sherrill says you can receive the vaccine even if you’ve already had shingles in the past. “It’s rare to get shingles twice, but it happens. The vaccine doesn’t treat shingles, but it can work to prevent it from occurring again,” Dr. Sherrill says.

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

People with compromised or weak immune systems should not get the shingles vaccine.

It’s contraindicated for people with:

  • HIV or AIDS
  • Leukemia or lymphoma
  • Cancer and undergoing radiation or chemotherapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Allergy to gelatin or to the antibiotic neomycin

Moreover, you cannot get vaccinated when you have a current case of shingles, but you can receive the vaccine once your shingles has cleared.

What Are the Side Effects of the Vaccine?

Most people have little or no reaction to the vaccine.

Dr. Sherrill says some reported side effects of the shingles vaccine, however, are:

  • Swelling, redness or warmth around the injection site
  • A chickenpox-like rash around the injection site
  • Achiness and flulike symptoms

Dr. Sherrill cautions that if you feel weak after the shot or if you have an anaphylactic reaction to the vaccine, you should seek medical attention immediately.

Does the Shingles Vaccine Treat Post-Herpetic Neuralgia?

Post-herpetic neuralgia (NPH) is severe pain that “occurs after the shingles and the rash is gone. This neuropathic pain can last for weeks, months or longer,” says Dr. Sherrill. “The shingles vaccine does not treat post-herpetic neuralgia.”

Where Can I Get the Shingles Vaccine?

The vaccine to prevent shingles is available at many clinics and at some pharmacies and grocery stores.

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Shingles Vaccine—A Preventive for a Painful Virus