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Shingles is a reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the virus that causes chickenpox. It can lead to a painful, blistering skin rash. Shingles is also called herpes zoster.

You may have read that some people develop shingles after getting the COVID-19 vaccine. While this is possible, it’s still uncommon.

This article covers the connection between the COVID-19 vaccine and shingles, other common causes of shingles, and how doctors treat shingles. Keep reading to learn more.

Published reports show that people can develop shingles days or weeks after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a 2021 research review, experts examined reports of people getting shingles after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. They found that many people who got shingles after their vaccine had existing factors that can increase the likelihood of developing shingles. These factors include older adulthood, immunological disorders, and cancer.

Research shows that getting shingles after COVID-19 vaccines predominantly links with the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, including the ones that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna produce.

Experts don’t yet know why the COVID-19 vaccines may increase the risk of shingles. It’s possible that it could happen due to immune system changes that happen after getting a vaccine.

The research into this topic can be conflicting as well. Let’s take a look at two different studies.

Increased risk of shingles after COVID-19 vaccination

A 2022 study compared people who visited a clinic to receive an mRNA vaccine with an unvaccinated group of people who visited a health clinic for any other reason.

The researchers found that 0.2% and 0.11% of the vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, respectively, developed shingles in the 60 days after their clinic visits.

While the researchers noted an increased frequency of shingles after the mRNA vaccines, they noted that this finding isn’t exclusive to COVID-19 vaccines. Experts observe this with vaccines for other diseases.

The researchers also noted that their study didn’t consider whether individuals included in their group had potential risk factors for shingles.

No increased risk of shingles after COVID-19 vaccination

While the study above noted that there may be an increased risk of getting shingles after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, a 2021 study had conflicting findings.

This study compared shingles onset within a 28-day period after either receiving an mRNA vaccine or getting a diagnosis for another skin condition. The people in the second group had no known history of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

The researchers matched these two groups of individuals 1-to-1 based on factors like age, sex, race or ethnicity, and health history. After this matching, they observed no increased risk of shingles between the two groups.

You can also develop shingles after having COVID-19. A different 2021 research review noted that most cases of shingles happen 1 to 2 weeks after having COVID-19 and have a typical presentation.

Older individuals may be more likely to develop shingles after having COVID-19. In another 2022 study, researchers examined shingles in people who had experienced COVID-19 and people who had not. All people in the study were ages 50 and older.

Compared with people who hadn’t had COVID-19, those who had experienced it had a 15% higher chance of shingles. This chance increased to 21% for individuals who experienced hospitalization for COVID-19.

Similar to getting shingles after a COVID-19 vaccine, the reason why COVID-19 can lead to shingles is unclear. It may happen due to immune dysfunction that occurs from COVID-19.

VZV is a type of herpesvirus. This is a viral family that also includes the herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2, which cause oral and genital herpes, respectively. Like these viruses, VZV can lie dormant in your nerves after an initial infection.

In some cases, VZV can reactivate. When this happens, it moves down the nerves until it reaches the skin, leading to the characteristic shingles rash.

Risk factors for shingles

Generally, almost anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles. While experts do not know yet what causes VZV to reactivate, experts believe that the reactivation happens due to factors that can lower immunity, such as:

Doctors can treat shingles with antiviral drugs. These drugs can help make a case of shingles shorter and less severe, and they can prevent complications from shingles like postherpetic neuralgia.

Some types of antiviral drugs that doctors commonly use to treat shingles include:

Antiviral drugs can be most effective when you begin taking them shortly after the symptoms of shingles develop. As such, contact a doctor promptly if you suspect that you have shingles.

You can also try the following at home that may help you recover:

  • Place a cool compress over the rash to ease itching and pain.
  • Avoid scratching or picking at the rash, as this can increase the risk of a bacterial infection.
  • Practice healthy lifestyle habits, such as resting up and eating a balanced diet.

You can help prevent shingles by receiving the shingles vaccine. This vaccine is called Shingrix.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends two doses of Shingrix for many adults ages 50 and older, as well as people with weakened immune systems that are ages 19 and older.

Because shingles may be brought on by intense stress, you can also explore ways to reduce stress in your daily life. A few examples of things to look into include:

While all the things above can help lower stress levels, they may not absolutely prevent you from getting shingles. Experts recommend that the most effective way to reduce your risk of shingles is to get the shingles vaccine when you’re eligible for it.

Can the COVID-19 vaccine trigger herpes?

While shingles is caused by herpes zoster, herpes is caused by herpes simplex, so these are different viruses. However, they are part of the same virus family, and research shows there is a chance of herpes simplex reactivation after the COVID-19 vaccine

That said, like herpes zoster, herpes simplex lives in your body, and flares can be activated by many things. The risk of herpes flares doesn’t outweigh the benefit of the COVID-19 vaccine.

How long do you have to wait after having shingles to get the COVID-19 or shingles vaccine?

There’s no specific time you need to wait after having shingles to get the shingles vaccine, and it can help you avoid getting it again. In addition, as soon as you feel better, you can be vaccinated for COVID-19, according to the CDC.

Learn more about shingles and COVID-19 vaccine timing.

What are the odds of getting shingles after the COVID-19 vaccine?

According to the CDC, 1 in 3 people will get shingles in their lifetime. A 2022 study found that for people vaccinated for COVID-19, the risk of developing shingles was only 0.2%.

Can other vaccines increase your risk of shingles?

Other vaccines may increase your risk of shingles. VZV reactivation links with other vaccines. A 2021 research review noted that these include vaccines for:

Shingles is a reactivation of VZV that can cause a painful rash. It’s possible to develop shingles after COVID-19 vaccination and after having COVID-19.

This observation isn’t specific to COVID-19. Other vaccines and infections link with the onset of shingles. Experts do not know the reasons for this yet, but they’re likely related to immune system changes or dysfunction

You can treat shingles with a combination of antiviral drugs and at-home care. Experts share that getting the shingles vaccine when it’s available to you can reduce your risk of getting shingles.