What Is the Shingles Vaccine?

Question

What is the shingles vaccine and how effective is it? Should everyone get vaccinated at age 60?

Answer

The shingles vaccine can help reduce your risk of shingles and the associated long-term pain it causes. Zostavax® is only shingles vaccine currently approved in the U.S. It is a live vaccine that is injected into the upper arm. If you’ve previously had shingles, you can still receive the vaccine to help prevent future outbreaks.

The shingles vaccine has been safely and effectively used since 2006. According to the CDC, the vaccine can help reduce your risk of developing shingles by 51 percent. Although the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, if you do get shingles it can still help reduce your risk of having long-term pain. Like all medications, the shingles vaccine may have adverse reactions and some serious reactions can occur. According to the FDA, the most frequent reactions were headaches and irritation at the injection-site such as redness, soreness, swelling, or itching.

Because almost one in three people will get shingles in their lifetime, the CDC recommends that everyone 60 years old and older get the shingles vaccine. While the vaccine is FDA approved for people age 50 and older, the vaccine is proven to be most effective in people age 60 through 69 years old. The shingles vaccine offers about five years of protection. Therefore, if you get the vaccine before age 60, you might not be protected from the shingles virus later in life when you are most at risk.

While everyone 60 years and older should get the shingles vaccine, there are some exceptions.

You should not get the shingles vaccine if you:

  • Have ever had a life-threatening or severe allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other components of the shingles vaccine.
  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Have active, untreated tuberculosis
  • Are pregnant or might be pregnant

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