The shingles vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for all adults over the age of 60, even if they've never experienced an outbreak of shingles. The vaccine, Zostavax, may not be appropriate for people with certain medical conditions, and it won't guarantee that you'll never get shingles. However, the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases estimates that 500,000 people a year get shingles; the shingles vaccine can reduce the prevalence of shingles in 250,000 people and significantly reduce the duration and severity of shingles in the remaining 250,000. Here's what you need to know about the shingles vaccine to see if you're an appropriate candidate, as well as what reactions you may experience.
Some people are not appropriate candidates for the shingles vaccine. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should not get the vaccine if you've ever had an allergic reaction to gelatin or neomycin (an antiobiotic), which make up the vaccine. Other people who should not get the vaccine include those with depressed immune systems, such as people with HIV/AIDS, or who are being treated with medications that affect the immune system. People who have had cancer that affected the bone marrow or lymphatic system, who have tuberculosis, or who are pregnant (or trying to get pregnant) are also advised not to get the shingles vaccine.
According to the CDC, there have been no serious side-effects reported due to use of the shingles vaccine. Some reactions to the vaccine that you may experience include redness, tenderness and itching at the injection site; around one-third of people who get vaccinated experience this side-effect. Around one in 70 people experience a headache after being vaccinated.
Zostavax is made up of a live but weakened strain of the herpes zoster virus. Mayo Clinic experts note that only very rarely will someone develop a shingles rash as a result of getting the vaccine and then transmit the virus to others. However, if a rash develops, it's important to remember that you cannot give others shingles, but rather, a case of chickenpox. If a shingles rash occurs, it's important to stay away from young children and pregnant women who may not have had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, until the rash heals--usually between seven and 10 days.
A vaccine of any type can cause an allergic reaction in some people. If you experience severe reactions within a few hours after receiving the shingles vaccine, such as hives, difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and faintness, contact your doctor immediately. Describe your symptoms, as well as the time you received the injection. Your health care provider may want to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. You can also do this yourself by accessing the site in the Resources link below.
According to the CDC, one-third of adults who develop shingles have serious complications, and the risk of these complications increases in people over the age of 60. If you receive the shingles vaccine, not only do you significantly decrease your chances of getting shingles, you also reduce your chances of getting the rash on your face, which could affect hearing and vision, as well as a post-shingles condition known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), which causes shingles pain to linger for months or even years.