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What you need to know about the shingles vaccine

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Centers for Disease Control

The shingles vaccine, also known as the herpes zoster vaccine, is an important preventive measure against shingles, a painful viral infection caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

The shingles vaccine is recommended for adults aged 50 years and older, regardless of whether they have had shingles before or received the Zostavax vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health authorities suggest getting vaccinated at 50 years of age or soon after.

There are two main types of shingles vaccines: Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax was the original vaccine, while Shingrix is the newer and more effective vaccine that is currently recommended.

Shingrix is highly effective at preventing shingles and its complications. Clinical trials have shown that it is over 90% effective in preventing shingles in individuals aged 50 years and older. It is also effective at reducing the severity and duration of shingles if a breakthrough infection does occur.

Shingrix is administered as a two-dose series. The doses are given two to six months apart. It is important to receive both doses to achieve optimal protection against shingles.

The shingles vaccine is generally safe and well-tolerated. Common side effects include soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, as well as mild symptoms like headache, muscle pain, or fatigue. Serious side effects are rare.

Shingrix provides long-lasting protection against shingles. Studies have shown that it remains highly effective for at least four years after vaccination. Further research is ongoing to determine its duration of protection beyond that timeframe.

Even if you have had shingles in the past, it is still recommended to get vaccinated. The vaccine can help prevent a recurrence or reduce the risk of developing a condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which is a common and often debilitating complication of shingles.

Shingrix is widely available in many countries, including in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. It is advisable to consult with a healthcare provider to determine vaccine availability, eligibility, and scheduling.

The cost of the shingles vaccine may vary depending on factors such as the country and healthcare system. In most cases, it is covered by insurance, including Medicare Part D in the United States. Checking with insurance providers or healthcare professionals can provide clarity on coverage and potential out-of-pocket costs.

It is important to note that while the shingles vaccine significantly reduces the risk of shingles and related complications, it does not guarantee complete immunity. However, it is still highly recommended for eligible individuals to protect themselves against this painful and potentially serious condition.


Dr. Jan Patterson is an infectious disease specialist with both UT Health San Antonio and University Health.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi