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Common Questions Patients Have About the Shingles Vaccine

Shingles is a painful condition that causes a blistering, scabbing rash to form over one side of the face and torso. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. Shingles results from the reactivation of viral particles that remain in a person’s body after having had chickenpox at a younger age.

Most patients who develop shingles are older adults. The illness can be incredibly debilitating, sometimes leading to nerve pain that lingers for years after the initial infection. Thankfully, there is a way to protect yourself: the shingles vaccine.

Who Should Receive the Shingles Vaccine?

A previous version of the shingles vaccine was recommended for adults age 60 and older, but a new shingles vaccine was released in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that adults age 50 and older receive the new shingles vaccine, known as Shingrix. You should get the vaccine even if you’ve had shingles before — it can keep you from getting shingles again.

If you had the old shingles vaccine, known as Zostavax, you can be vaccinated again with Shingrix, which is more effective.

Who Should Not Receive the Shingles Vaccine?

The shingles vaccine is not recommended for only a few people:

  • Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Those who currently have shingles. (You can be vaccinated once you recover.)
  • Those who have had allergic reactions to Shingrix or one of its components before.

If you never had chickenpox, you should get the chickenpox vaccine instead of Shingrix. If you are not sure whether or not you had chickenpox as a child, your doctor can administer a blood test to detect the varicella zoster virus. If you test positive for the virus, you should get the shingles vaccine; if you test negative, you should get the chickenpox vaccine.

If you are allergic to one of the components of the Shingrix vaccine, your doctor may recommend that you are vaccinated with Zostavax instead.

What Side Effects Are Associated With the Shingles Vaccine?

The side effects of the shingles vaccine are generally minor. Your arm may be sore, and you may develop some redness and swelling at the injection site. Tiredness and headaches are also common. Keep in mind that the side effects of the vaccine go away within a few days, whereas the pain and complications of shingles can linger for a lifetime.

How Effective Is the Shingles Vaccine?

The new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is more than 90 percent effective at preventing shingles. Patients who do develop shingles in spite of having been vaccinated tend to have milder symptoms than non-vaccinated patients. Zostavax, the old shingles vaccine, was less effective — which is one reason why it is being phased out in favor of Shingrix.

How Many Shingles Vaccines Do You Need?

For adequate protection, you will need two doses of Shingrix. The second dose should be administered between two and six months after the initial dose.

If you were vaccinated with Zostavax in the past and are now being vaccinated with Shingrix, you will still need two doses of Shingrix. Luckily, the shingles vaccine is easily obtained at most pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and urgent care centers, and health insurance usually pays for it.

According to the CDC, more than 99 percent of Americans born before 1980 had chickenpox as children and are therefore at risk for shingles. Since shingles can cause lasting nerve pain, eye-related complications that lead to blindness, and even death, you should absolutely have the shingles vaccine to protect yourself. Contact PDQ Urgent Care & More right away to schedule an appointment for your vaccines.

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