Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine Zostavax® protects against infections with the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Zostavax can potentially cause severe shingles, chickenpox, or even death in sick people.

What is the shingles vaccine?

Zostavax® is the only shingles vaccine on the makret. Zostavax is sold by Merck & Co. and it was approved in May 2006 to prevent shingles (herpes zoster), a disease that occurs in 30% of people who are infected with the varicella zoster chickenpox virus.

Zostavax is a live attenuated virus vaccine that is approved for individuals 50 years of age and older, but it is only recommended for adults over 60. The vaccine is given as a 0.65-mL injection in the upper arm.

Zostavax reduces the risk of shingles by 51% in adults over 60 years old. People who develop shingles despite getting the vaccine are 65% less likely to develop chronic nerve pain due to Post-Herpetic Neuralgia.

Who gets the shingles vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people 60 years and older get a shingles vaccine, but Zostavax is approved for adults 50 years and older.

Who should NOT get the vaccine?

  • Pregnant women (avoid pregnancy for 3 months after vaccination)
  • History of severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to gelatin, neomycin, or any other ingredient in the vaccine
  • People who have a severe illness
  • Weakened immune system (immunosuppression or immunodeficiency)
  • History of leukemia, lymphoma, cancer of the bone marrow, AIDS

What is the immunization schedule for shingles?

The immunization schedule for shingles is a single shot of Zostavax at the age of 60 years old.

What are common side effects of shingles vaccines?

Zostavax commonly causes injection-site reactions (1 in 3) and headaches (1 in 70). The following is a list of the most common side effects of the shingles vaccine:

  • Chickenpox-like skin rash near the injection
  • Headache
  • Injection-site pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, itching, warmth, or hard lump
  • Shingles skin rash (contagious)

To learn more about the side effects associated with the shingles vaccine, please visit this page:  Shingles Vaccine Side Effects.

Can the shingles vaccines cause shingles?

Yes. Zostavax contains a live virus that is attenuated (weakened), but it sometimes causes severe shingles infections. Zostavax can be deadly for sick people. Several people have died after receiving Zostavax because their immune system was not strong enough to fight off an infection with the virus in the vaccine. Furthermore, healthy people who get Zostavax frequently develop a contagious skin rash that can spread shingles infections or chickenpox to other people.

What are severe side effects of shingles vaccines?

Allergic reactions and serious hypersensitivity, including anaphylaxis, have occurred in patients who received Zostavax.

Zostavax contains a live virus and people who get the vaccine may develop shingles. These infections can potentially result in chronic pain, Post-Herpetic Neuralgia, other shingles complications, or death.

People who get Zostavax may spread shingles or chickenpox infections to non-immune people. Transmission of the shingles virus has occurred between vaccinated people and their contacts.

Zostavax should be delayed in patients who are sick, fever, or active untreated tuberculosis. There are reports of sick people who died after receiving Zostavax.

Pregnant women should not get Zostavax because the virus in the vaccine can cause fetal harm, birth defects, or death. Pregnancy should be avoided for 3 months following immunization with Zostavax.

What other side effects have been reported?

  • Arthralgia (joint pain)
  • Anaphylactic reactions
  • Chickenpox
  • Death
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Herpes zoster (vaccine strain)
  • Hypersensitivity reactions
  • Injection-site rash, hives
  • Muscle aches (myalgia)
  • Nausea
  • Necrotizing retinitis (patients on immunosuppressive therapy)
  • Rash
  • Shingles infection from vaccine virus

Where can I get more information?

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