Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox.

If you had chickenpox earlier in life, the virus remains inactive in your nervous system until much later in life or when your immune system becomes weakened. When the virus reactivates, it can cause a red skin rash. This is called herpes zoster, or shingles.

The painful blisters that appear with this rash often emerge on one side of your torso, neck, or face. Burning and stinging are common symptoms of a shingles rash, which can take several weeks to clear up.

It’s possible to reduce the risk of getting shingles — or lessen the severity of symptoms if you do — by getting a two-dose shingles vaccine.

Who can give the vaccine?

There is not much you need to do to prepare for a shingles vaccine. You don’t even necessarily need an appointment.

A doctor can schedule a time to give you the vaccine, but licensed pharmacists can also administer it. Some pharmacies offer shingles vaccines on a walk-in basis. Check with your healthcare professional or local pharmacy to be sure.

When you arrive

When you arrive for vaccination, you’ll provide some basic information about yourself. You’ll also be asked for your health insurance information, if you have it, or for payment.

Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance plans will usually cover all or part of the shingles vaccine. Vaccine assistance programs offered by pharmaceutical companies could also offset any costs you might have.

Getting the vaccine

When it’s time for the actual shot, you’ll sit in a treatment area and bare your shoulder.

The healthcare professional or pharmacist will confirm your identity and clean the injection site with alcohol. They will then inject the shingles vaccine into the deltoid muscle of your shoulder.

The entire process lasts a matter of seconds. After your shot, the healthcare professional or pharmacist may apply a bandage to the injection site. Otherwise, you can leave the doctor’s office or pharmacy with no special instructions or precautions.

It’s a good idea to schedule the second dose of the vaccine when you receive the first dose.

Note that some mild side effects are common after receiving the vaccine. However, it is important to call emergency services if you have difficulty breathing, have a racing heartbeat, or experience swelling of the face and throat afterward, as this could indicate a severe allergic reaction.

A look back at varicella-zoster vaccination

Even though chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, the conditions have different vaccines. The chickenpox vaccine debuted in 1995, and the shingles vaccine hit the market a decade later.

The first shingles vaccine was Zostavax in 2006. However, as of 2020, this vaccine is no longer available for use in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released another shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, in 2017. It recommends that anyone who received Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.

Was this helpful?

There are two types of shingles vaccine: Shingrix and Zostavax. However, as of 2020, Zostavax is no longer available in the United States.

Zostavax is only 51% effective at reducing the risk of developing shingles, compared with the 90% efficacy that Shingrix offers.

This is because Zostavax uses a weakened live virus as its mechanism of action, whereas Shingrix is a recombinant vaccine, which means it targets specific components of the herpes zoster virus.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can develop shingles.

The CDC recommends that all adults over age 50 — and adults over age 19 with certain health conditions — receive the shingles vaccine.

Plan to receive the shingles vaccine if you:

  • previously had shingles
  • received Zostavax
  • were vaccinated against chickenpox
  • had chickenpox

Some people should not receive the shingles vaccine. This includes people who:

  • are pregnant or nursing
  • currently have shingles
  • previously had an allergic reaction to any components of the Shingrix vaccine

If you’re pregnant or currently have shingles, wait to get vaccinated until you are no longer pregnant or your shingles case clears up.

It may be difficult to know if you are allergic to any part of the vaccine, so speak with a doctor about any allergies you may have or previous reactions you have experienced after vaccinations.

Most of the side effects of the shingles vaccine are limited and short-acting. Side effects usually appear in the first few days after your first or second dose of the vaccine and disappear within a few days.

Common side effects include:

  • arm soreness or pain at the injection site
  • swelling or redness at the injection site
  • tiredness
  • muscle pain
  • headache
  • shivering
  • fever
  • stomach pain
  • nausea

Most side effects of the shingles vaccine will resolve on their own within a few days of vaccination or can be treated with over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Medical emergency

Though rare, it is possible to have a serious allergic reaction to a shingles vaccine. Call emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room if you experience the following symptoms after vaccination:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or throat
  • difficulty breathing
  • a racing heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • weakness

Vaccination against shingles can be done on its own or alongside other vaccinations, such as the flu or pneumonia. Generally, you’ll receive the vaccine in two doses. You’ll get the second dose 2–6 months after the first dose.

If you’re receiving the shingles vaccine because of an immune deficiency, you can get the second dose sooner: 1–2 months after the first dose.

In this case, try to time your shingles vaccination with your immune response. This could mean waiting until after a flare-up of your condition has subsided or getting the vaccine before you receive certain immunosuppressant medications.

How often do you have to get the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine series should be administered once in a person’s lifetime, according to the CDC.

Speak with a doctor about how often you should be vaccinated for shingles based on your immune system and health concerns.

How long does the shingles vaccine last?

There is no age limit to when you can be vaccinated, and protection from the shingles vaccine series stays strong for the first 7 years and remains effective afterward.

Why do you have to be 50 years old to get the shingles shot?

As you age, your immune system gets weaker. For this reason, shingles in older adults tends to be more severe than in young adults. That said, young adults with compromised immune systems should not wait until age 50 to get the shingles vaccine.

Can you get a shingles vaccine at the same time as a COVID-19 vaccine?

You can get the shingles vaccine along with any other vaccinations, such as the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19.

You do not need to do anything to prepare for the shingles vaccine, other than make a plan to get it if recommended for you. The shot itself takes just a few seconds, but you’ll need a second dose in the months after your first vaccination. Be sure to get the full series for the best protection against developing shingles.