Shingrix is the most common shingles vaccine that’s in use today. This is, most likely, the vaccine that your doctor will recommend for shingles when you live in the U.S.
Who is a candidate for the shingles vaccine, and who isn’t? There are only a few situations when you shouldn’t get Shingrix. You cannot get Shingrix if:
- You currently have an active shingles infection — particularly if you still have a rash
- You’ve had the chickenpox vaccine within the past eight weeks
- You’ve had a severe allergic reaction — like anaphylaxis — to any part of the Shingrix vaccine or your first dose of Shingrix
- You’re currently pregnant
You also shouldn’t get Shingrix if you’ve had a shingles vaccine called Zostavax within the past eight weeks. This isn’t likely unless you were vaccinated outside of the United States. Zostavax hasn’t been used in the U.S. since November 2020.
Keep in mind that there’s only data on patients who have safely taken Shingrix five years after Zostavax. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend this shorter wait time because it’s highly unlikely that the two vaccines are dangerous when combined.
What is shingles?
Shingles is a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. It affects one person out of three in the U.S. There are about one million new cases each year. The risk of getting shingles increases as you get older, but even children can develop the condition.
Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus never entirely leaves your body but remains inactive or dormant in your system. You get shingles when this virus reactivates.
Shingles causes a rash that usually covers part of one side of your face or body. Painful blisters form that can each last for over a week. The entire flare-up can last for two to four weeks. Most adults only get shingles once, but it can recur throughout your lifetime.
Other symptoms can include:
In one out of five cases, people can also develop post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) as a complication of shingles. This causes intense pain that can last much longer than your rash.
You should talk to your doctor as soon as you notice a rash like the one caused by shingles. They may prescribe antiviral medications for your treatment. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help with the pain and other shingles symptoms.
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Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?
The CDC states that anyone over 50 is a candidate for the shingles vaccine. They also recommend that you get it if you have a weakened — or compromised — immune system and are at least 19 years old. Certain diseases and treatments for other conditions can weaken your immune system.
You should get it whether or not you remember having chickenpox in the past, which is caused by the same virus. Your doctor doesn’t need to test for any previous infections with that virus before administering Shingrix. It’s safe to assume that 99% of people born before 1980 have been exposed to the shingle’s virus in the form of chickenpox.
There’s one exceptional instance where your doctor will need to decide if you need Shingrix. The vaccine is recommended only if you have a weakened immune system and are certain that you’ve never had chickenpox or gotten the chickenpox vaccine.
Research is currently ongoing to determine whether or not it’s safe to get Shingrix at the same time as your Covid-19 vaccine. But you shouldn’t get Shingrix if you have Covid-19 or have recently been exposed. This will protect your health care provider from any unnecessary exposure.
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What is the schedule for Shingrix doses?
You’ll need two doses of the Shingrix vaccine for the best effect. These should be given within two to six months after the first dose. You should still go see your healthcare provider for your second dose even if you’ve missed this ideal six-month window.
You may have your second dose moved up to one or two months after the first if you’re immunocompromised and would benefit from this faster cycle. Your doctor is the best person to determine whether or not you should have this shorter time between doses.
It’s safe to get Shingrix at the same time as many other vaccines. Your doctor or pharmacist will determine the best schedule for you if you need multiple vaccinations around the same time.
How effective is Shingrix?
Data indicates that Shingrix is 97% effective at preventing shingles in people between 50 and 69 years old. Shingrix is 91% effective in people who are older than 70.
It’s slightly less effective in immunocompromised individuals. In this case, it only prevents shingles 68% to 91% of the time. The efficacy depends on what condition or treatment is weakening your immune system.
Even when you get shingles with the vaccine, the symptoms should be milder than if you weren't vaccinated.
The vaccine also helps prevent the shingles complication PHN. Shingrix is between 89% and 91% effective at preventing PHN in all adults over the age of 50.
Studies show that, with two doses of the vaccine, your immune system still shows strong resistance seven years after you first received it.
What are the side effects of Shingrix?
Your doctor or pharmacist will inject Shingrix in your upper arm muscle. Like other vaccines given this way, there can be some side effects at the injection site. These include:
There can also be some side effects that are specific to Shingrix. These may include:
These symptoms could last anywhere from two to three days after you get the vaccine.
Are there alternatives to Shingrix?
Shingrix is the only shingles vaccine that’s currently available in the U.S. This version of the vaccine only contains a portion of the virus that causes shingles.
Before November 2020 there was another shingles vaccine — Zostavax — that contained a weakened form of the virus. It is only 50% effective at preventing shingles.
Zostavax is still offered in other countries. For the most part, it’s only used if you’ve previously had a life-threatening reaction to something in Shingrix.
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