What It Is and What It Protects Against

Shingles (Herpes Zoster), a painful skin rash, is more common in people over 50, and also in individuals who have a weakened immune system. Cancer or cancer treatment, such as certain high-dose steroids and chemotherapy, can compromise the immune system, making some people more vulnerable to developing shingles. The disease is caused by the same virus as the chickenpox, Varicella Zoster, and not by the virus that causes genital herpes.

General Use

Only if you had the chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine can you develop shingles later in life, because the virus stays dormant in your body. Adults over age 60 are recommended to get one dose of the shingles vaccine for protection. Clinical trials showed that the shingles vaccine reduced risk of the disease by 50 percent.

Who Should Not Get It

Certain people should not receive the shingles vaccine if they meet any of the following criteria, including:

  • past severe allergic reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or other parts of this vaccine
  • weakened immune system due to AIDS, drug treatments that affect the immune system (high-dose steroids, for example), cancer treatment, or cancer of the bone or lymphatic system
  • pregnant women, or women who think they may be pregnant
  • anyone who is moderately to severely ill is advised to wait until a full recovery before getting vaccinated (including a temperature of 101.3° or higher).

Potential Side Effects

Though the risk of serious harm from the vaccine is small compared with the actual untreated disease, the vaccine does hold some risk, from mild to severe side effects.

Mild side effects include:

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