The Shingles Vaccine

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on November 18, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on November 18, 2014

Shingles Vaccination

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a painful skin rash. It’s caused by reactivation of the chickenpox virus. This virus is the varicella zoster virus (VZV).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one-third of Americans will develop shingles during their lifetime. It’s more common in people over 50. It’s also more common in people with weakened immune systems. Immune system damage can be caused by:

  • cancer or cancer treatment
  • high-dose steroids
  • HIV

Getting Vaccinated

Anyone who has had chickenpox or been vaccinated for VZV can develop shingles. Shingles occurs when the virus becomes reactivated later in life. Adults over age 60 should get one dose of the shingles vaccine for protection. The vaccine is also approved for use in adults age 50 to 59.

The CDC reports that in clinical trials, vaccination cut disease risk in half. It also reduced pain in people who still contracted shingles.

Who Should Not Get Vaccinated?

Certain people should not receive the shingles vaccine. This includes those who are:  

  • allergic to gelatin, neomycin, or other parts of this vaccine
  • suffering from a weakened immune system
  • currently moderately to severely ill
  • currently pregnant

Women should not try to get pregnant for at least 4 weeks after being vaccinated.

Potential Side Effects

No serious problems have been linked to the shingles vaccination. However, mild side effects include:

  • soreness, or swelling at the site of the shot (common)
  • itching at the site of the shot (common)
  • headache
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