Who is a candidate for the shingles vaccine?

Shingles is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus lives in your body forever. 10% of people who had chickenpox in childhood will get shingles as an adult, often when they are over the age of 50. You are most likely to get shingles if you have been sick, felt stressed, or experienced trauma recently. A shingles outbreak is often painful and can cause complications. This is why many people who are eligible get the shingles vaccine to prevent the condition.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone over the age of 50 should get the Shingrix vaccine against shingles. Anyone over the age of 19 who has a weakened immune system should also get it. You should get it even if you can't remember whether or not you had chickenpox as a child because 99% of Americans born before 1980 had the virus. You can also get the shingles vaccine even if you received the chickenpox vaccine.

You can get shingles more than once. Because of this, experts recommend that you get the shingles vaccine even if you've already had shingles. It can help to prevent another outbreak. Make sure to get the vaccination only after your shingles rash has completely disappeared.

Who is not eligible for the shingles vaccine?

You should not get the Shingrix vaccine if you've had an allergic reaction to a previous shingles vaccine. You should also avoid it if you are allergic to any of the ingredients in the vaccine or if you have shingles when you go to get the vaccine. Don't get the vaccine if you are moderately or severely ill. However, if you just have a cold, it's fine to get the shingles vaccine.

The shingles vaccine has not been studied in people who are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or nursing, wait to get the vaccine until after your baby is born and you are no longer breastfeeding.

You should also not get the vaccine for shingles if you have had a negative test for immunity against chickenpox. In that case, you should get the chickenpox vaccine instead.

How many shots does the Shingrix vaccine take?

You will need to take two doses of the Shingrix vaccine. You should get the second dose between two and six months after the first. If you have a compromised immune system, you should get the second dose between one and two months after the first. 

According to studies, the protection from the shingles vaccine lasts for around seven years in most people. However, the CDC does not have a recommendation for getting another round of the vaccination after this period of time has passed, so talk to your doctor if seven years have passed since your last shingles vaccination.

Is the shingles vaccine effective?

The shingles vaccine has been proven to be 97% effective at preventing shingles in people between ages 50 to 69, and 91% effective in preventing it in people older than 70. For those with weakened immune systems, the vaccine is between 68% and 91% effective. The vaccine's effectiveness depends on what condition you have and how it affects your immune system.

Shingrix vaccine side effects

Like many vaccines, the shingles vaccine does have some potential side effects that you might experience for a few days after getting the shot. However, studies have shown that the vaccine is both safe and effective. Side effects of the vaccine include:

Most people who get side effects from the vaccine can treat them with readily available medications like ibuprofen for soreness or bismuth subsalicylate for nausea.

Guillain Barré Syndrome is an extremely rare side effect of both the shingles vaccine and getting shingles. During this syndrome, your immune system attacks your own nerves, causing paralysis. This is a serious condition, so if you experience any of the following symptoms following a shingles vaccination, go to the doctor right away:

  • Pins and needles feeling in your extremities
  • Weak limbs
  • Unable to walk
  • Difficulty talking, chewing, or swallowing
  • Double vision
  • Losing control of your bladder or bowel movements
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fast heart rate
  • Blood pressure that is either too low or too high

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Why should you get the shingles vaccine?

Even though shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, it is very different from the childhood disease. It causes a red rash, usually on your body or face, that turns into painful, fluid-filled blisters over the course of a few days. In addition to being somewhat uncomfortable, the condition comes with some complications.

About 10% of people who get shingles will get postherpetic neuralgia. This is a condition that causes nerve pain in the area where you had your shingles rash. Experts do not know why some people get this condition after having shingles and others don't. They believe that either the condition makes the nerves more sensitive, or that it damages the nerves. Typical pain relief options do not work for this condition and it can last for several months or even years. 

Other shingles complications include: 

  • Nerve-related issues like numbness or itchiness in the area where you had your rash
  • Inflammation of the eyes or ears if the rash is on your face
  • A bacterial infection on the shingles blisters
  • Blindness if you get shingles in your eye
  • Hearing issues if you get it in your ear
  • Pneumonia
  • Encephalitis (swelling of the brain)
  • In rare cases, shingles causes death.

The shingles vaccine helps to prevent you from getting shingles. If you do get shingles, being vaccinated reduces the severity of your case. In both of these situations, the vaccine reduces your risk of serious and long-term complications from shingles.

How to get the shingles vaccine

To get the Shingrix vaccine to prevent shingles, talk to your doctor, who will review your medical history and let you know if you are eligible. Many health insurance plans cover the shingles vaccine for people who are older than 50.

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Medically Reviewed on 5/6/2022
References
SOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Shingles Vaccination."

Cleveland Clinic: "Shingles."

Mayo Clinic: "Guillain-Barre syndrome."

Oxford Vaccine Group: "Shingles Vaccine."