Shingles Vaccine Side Effects: Is It Safe?
What Is Shingles
Shingles is a painful rash that’s caused by the same virus—varicella zoster—that’s responsible for chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus hasn’t completely gone away. It hides dormant in your body and can reemerge many years later as shingles. There are about 1 million cases of shingles each year, according to the CDC, and about half of all occur among people over the age of 60.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
Older adults are most likely to develop shingles, which is why the shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is recommended for people age 60 and older. According to the CDC, the vaccine can reduce your risk of getting shingles by more than half. Getting vaccinated can also help you avoid painful nerve complications from the disease. The shingles vaccine is also approved for people ages 50 to 59.
Who Shouldn’t Get the Vaccine?
The shingles vaccine contains ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Avoid the shot if you’ve ever had a reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or other ingredients in the vaccine. You also want to avoid the shingles vaccine if your immune system is weakened due to HIV/AIDS or another condition, you take drugs that lower your immune response (such as steroids), you’ve had cancer, or you’ve been treated for cancer with radiation or chemotherapy.
Mild Vaccine Side Effects
The shingles vaccine has been tested on thousands of people to ensure its efficacy and safety. Most of the time, the vaccine is safely administered, without any side effects. When it does cause reactions, they’re usually mild. People have reported side effects including redness, swelling, itching, or soreness in the area of skin where they were injected. A small number of people have complained of a headache after being vaccinated.
Serious Side Effects
In very rare cases, people have developed a very severe allergic reaction to the shingles virus. This reaction is called anaphylaxis. Signs of anaphylaxis include swelling of the face (including the mouth and eyes), hives, warmth or redness of the skin, trouble breathing, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, or a slow pulse. If you have any of these symptoms after getting the shingles vaccine, seek medical help right away. Anaphylaxis can be life threatening.
Can You Get Shingles From the Vaccine?
The shingles vaccine is made from the live virus. However, the virus is weakened, so it shouldn’t make anyone with a healthy immune system sick. People whose immune system is weaker than normal do need to be careful. In very rare cases, people with a weakened immune system have gotten sick from the varicella zoster virus in the vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you have a weakened immune system.
Can I Give Shingles to Someone Else After I’m Vaccinated?
It’s perfectly safe for you to be around friends and family members—even children—after getting the shingles vaccine. Some people develop a chickenpox-like rash around the area on their skin where they’ve been vaccinated. If you get this rash, you’ll want to cover it. And, make sure any babies or young children who haven’t been vaccinated against chickenpox don’t touch the rash.
Does the Shingles Vaccine Contain Thimerosal?
You may be concerned about additives to the shingles vaccine—especially thimerosal. Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury. It’s added to some vaccines to prevent bacteria and other germs from growing in them. The worry about thimerosal arose when early research linked it to autism, although this connection has since been found to be untrue. The shingles vaccine does not contain any thimerosal.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles Overview. (January 2011). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (Herpes zoster) Vaccination: What You Need to Know. (February 2013). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/shingles/vacc-need-know.htm#protection.
- Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Shingles Vaccine. (April 2013). Retrieved from http://www.chop.edu/service/vaccine-education-center/a-look-at-each-vaccine/shingles-vaccine.html.