Do you really need a shingles vaccine?

July 23, 2018 | by Priya Jimmy, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

Chances are, if you were born before 1995 (when the chickenpox vaccine was approved), you could end up with shingles in your later years.

About one out of three people in the U.S. develop shingles, or herpes zoster, at some point in their later years. An estimated 99 percent of people age 40 or older have had chickenpox.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that gave you chickenpox: varicella zoster. Once your body fights off the virus, it remains dormant in your body. For some reason, it can cause shingles later on, typically after age 50.

The symptoms aren’t fun. The virus can cause a painful rash on one side of your face or body. You could also feel chills, stomach upset, or have a fever or headache.

In some cases, shingles can lead to postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which causes temporary, severe pain in the areas where you had the shingles rash, even after the rash is gone.

The good news? There’s a vaccine for that!

Immunizations aren’t just for kids. And shingles is disruptive and miserable enough that you should seriously consider getting vaccinated once you reach age 50.

There are two options for vaccines, one of which is more highly recommended.

  • Shingrix. This vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in October 2017, and is considered the most effective. It comes in two doses (shots in the arm), 2-6 months apart. It’s recommended for healthy people age 50 or older, even if they’ve already had shingles or have already received Zostavax, another shingles vaccine. It’s more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and PHN.
  • Zostavax. While Shingrix is the preferred vaccine, you can still receive Zostavax, which has been in use since 2006. It’s recommended for adults age 60 or older, and comes as a one-dose shot. It’s less effective: Zostavax reduces your risk of shingles by 51 percent and PHN by 67 percent.

If you’ve never had chickenpox, you should get the chickenpox vaccine. There are certain health conditions people can have where they should not be vaccinated for shingles. Be sure to talk to your primary care physician about the shingles vaccine.

Priya Jimmy, MD, is an internal medicine physician with Elmhurst Memorial Elmhurst Clinic. View her profile and schedule an appointment online now.

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