People under 50 who are immunocompromised can get the shingles vaccine. This can include people who take certain medications or have health conditions that affect the immune system.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Shingrix in 2017 after finding it safe and highly effective at preventing shingles. But it’s mostly recommended for people ages 50 and over.

There are some instances where people under 50 can get the shingles vaccine.

Read on to learn the reasons behind the over-age-50 rule and a few exceptions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine for people with healthy immune systems who are ages 50 and over. This is because your immune system becomes less robust as you age, increasing your risk of developing shingles.

The CDC also recommends the vaccine for people 19 and older who are immunocompromised. This means they have a weakened immune system and a higher risk of developing shingles.

If your immune system is weakened, your body is less able to fight off viruses.

Chickenpox and shingles are both caused by the varicella-zoster virus. When you recover from chickenpox, the virus stays in the cells in your nervous system.

It can become active again if your body is no longer able to suppress it. It spreads down nerve fibers and up to your skin, causing a rash, inflammation, burning, and pain.

You are vulnerable to shingles if you:

  • have had chickenpox, even if you didn’t have symptoms
  • have had the chickenpox vaccine, although the risk is lower than with naturally occurring infection

Learn more about what causes shingles to reactivate.

The risk of getting shingles generally gets higher as you get older.

People with certain health conditions or who take medications that affect the body’s immunity can have a higher risk of shingles. These can include:

  • cancer, especially leukemia and lymphoma
  • HIV
  • autoimmune disease, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
  • bone marrow or solid organ (renal, cardiac, liver, and lung) transplants
  • immunosuppressive medications, including:
    • steroids
    • chemotherapy
    • transplant-related immunosuppressive medications

People born after 1995 are less likely to get shingles because they are less likely overall to get chickenpox. That year, a vaccine was released, which reduced chickenpox transmission significantly.

You can get shingles after vaccination with the chickenpox vaccine, but it’s less likely than if you got chickenpox.

Vaccination is the key to preventing shingles. The CDC recommends:

  • two doses of chickenpox vaccine regardless of age
  • two doses of Shingrix for adults over age 50 and adults with weakened immune systems (immunocompromised)

According to the CDC, you should get the vaccine even if, in the past, you:

  • had shingles
  • received Zostavax, another vaccine that is no longer on the market
  • received the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine

Creating and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits — such as stress management, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting plenty of sleep — can also help prevent or lessen flare-ups.

About the shingles vaccine

Shingrix is a vaccine that contains an inactive form of the herpes zoster virus. It helps you develop immunity to the active virus.

Adults receive the vaccine in two separate doses. Generally, healthy adults over age 50 get their second dose 2 to 6 months after the first dose. Immunocompromised adults may get the second dose sooner.

There is no maximum age for getting Shingrix.

Depending on when you get Shingrix, the vaccine is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a common complication of shingles.

Learn more about getting the shingles vaccine.

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Shingles can be painful, but the blisters often begin to heal within a week. Your skin usually clears up within a month.

People who develop PHN can have it for months or years afterward, but not everyone who has shingles will develop PHN.

Healthcare professionals can help treat shingles and shorten its duration with prescription antiviral drugs. These can also reduce your likelihood of having PHN.

Most people only get shingles once, though it is possible to get it again.

Learn more about treatment and recovery with shingles.

Can I get the shingles vaccine if I am under 50?

Shingrix is not recommended for adults under age 50 who have a healthy immune system.

It is recommended for adults ages 19 or over who are immunocompromised, such as people with an immune-related health condition or who are receiving immunosuppressive medications, which are medications that reduce the body’s immune response. These medications may help prevent organ rejection after an organ transplant and treat other medical conditions.

What happens if I don’t get the second dose within 6 months of the first one?

Doctors recommend you get a second dose between 2 and 6 months after the first. But, if you have waited longer than 6 months, according to the CDC, you will not have to start over. Just get your second dose as soon as possible.

Do I have to get a first and second dose if I’ve never had chickenpox (varicella)?

Yes. Over 99% of people born in 1980 or earlier have had exposure to the varicella-zoster virus, whether or not they had symptoms. If you are sure you did not have chickenpox, a doctor may be able to order a test to determine if you are vulnerable to shingles.

How long will immunity from the Shingles vaccine last?

Immunity stays strong for at least 7 years and is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN among people ages 50 and over, per the CDC. It is between 68% and 91% effective in immunocompromised adults over 18.

Who should not get the Shingles vaccine?

You should not get Shingrix if you:

  • have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or after a dose of Shingrix
  • have shingles right now
  • are pregnant
  • currently have a moderate or severe health condition, with or without fever

Shingles is a painful condition caused by the same virus as chickenpox. The virus can remain dormant in your body for decades before reactivating.

There is one FDA-approved vaccine that prevents shingles and its complications. Doctors recommend it for adults over 50 and those 19 or over with compromised immune systems. Your doctor may be able to prescribe it to you sooner, depending on your circumstances.

If you do get shingles, it usually goes away within a month. Yet it’s possible to develop PHN that lasts for months or years. Your healthcare professional may be able to prescribe antiviral drugs that will shorten the duration of the shingles infection and help prevent PHN.