Zostavax Herpes Zoster Shingles Vaccine Information

Zostavax Vaccine

Zostavax is a shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine made by Merck & Co. that is recommended for adults over 60 years old. It reduces the risk of skin rash from shingles and chronic nerve pain due to Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN).

What is Zostavax?

Zostavax® is a zoster vaccine that protects against shingles, which is a painful skin rash with blisters. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Zostavax prevents shingles in 51% of people who are vaccinated at age 60 and protection lasts 5 years. In the general population, 99% of Americans are infected with varicella zoster and 30% develop shingles.

How is Zostavax given?

Zostavax is given in one dose as a 0.65-mL shot, and can be given in a doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Can Zostavax give you shingles?

Yes. Shingles is a side effect of Zostavax that was added to the label in August 2014.

Zostavax contains a live attenuated zoster virus, which means it is alive but weakened. A common side effect of Zostavax is a chickenpox-like skin rash that can transmit the varicella zoster virus in the vaccine to other people, causing chickenpox or shingles.

People whose immune system is not strong enough to fight off the varicella zoster virus in the vaccine may develop a serious infection that can result in life-threatening complications or death.

Who should NOT get Zostavax?

Some people should not get Zostavax, including those who:

  • Are pregnant (do not get pregnant for 3 months)
  • Have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin, gelatin, or any other ingredient in the shingles vaccine
  • Have a weakened immune system (for example, an immune deficiency, leukemia, lymphoma, or HIV/AIDS)
  • Take medications that prevent activity of the immune system
  • Take high doses of steroids by injection or by mouth

People with a mild illness like a cold may be vaccinated with Zostavax. But anyone with a moderate or severe illness like the flu should usually wait until they recover before getting Zostavax. This include anyone with a temperature over 101.3ºF. There have been people who died after receiving Zostavax because they were too sick.

What are minor side effects of Zostavax?

In most cases, Zostavax causes no serious side effects. Some people experience headaches or other mild reactions that last a few days, such as soreness, swelling, or itching where the shot was injected.

What are the most common side effects of Zostavax?

  • Arm pain
  • Headache
  • Injection-site pain, redness, swelling, warmth, lump, or bruising
  • Itching
  • Rash

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

What is the risk of fever from Zostavax?

In clinical trials, 1.8% of Zostavax patients developed a fever within 42 days post-vaccination.

What are severe side effects of Zostavax?

Zostavax is associated with rare but serious side effects, including infections with the virus in the vaccine that caused death in patients who were too sick when they received the vaccine.

The most severe side effects of Zostavax include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Chickenpox
  • Death
  • Shingles
  • Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA)
  • Swollen glands near the injection site for a few days or weeks

What other side effects were reported?

  • Anaphylactic reactions
  • Arthralgia (joint pain)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Fever
  • Herpes zoster (vaccine strain)
  • Hypersensitivity reactions
  • Injection-site rash, hives
  • Myalgia (muscle pain)
  • Nausea
  • Necrotizing retinitis (patients on immunosuppressive therapy)
  • Rash
  • Shingles infection from the virus in the vaccine

What ingredients are in Zostavax?

Zostavax is a lyophilized preparation of the Oka/Merck strain of live, attenuated varicella-zoster virus (VZV). Zostavax, when reconstituted as directed, is a sterile suspension for subcutaneous administration. Each 0.65-mL dose contains a minimum of 19,400PFU (plaque-forming units) of Oka/Merck strain of VZV when reconstituted and stored at room temperature for up to 30 minutes.

Each dose contains 31.16 mg of sucrose, 15.58 mg of hydrolyzed porcine gelatin, 3.99 mg of sodium chloride, 0.62mg of monosodium L-glutamate, 0.57mg of sodium phosphate dibasic, 0.10mg of potassium phosphate monobasic, 0.10 mg of potassium chloride; residual components of MRC-5 cells including DNA and protein; and trace quantities of neomycin and bovine calf serum. The product contains no preservatives.

Where can I get more information?

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