Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Shingles Health Center

Font Size

FDA: Shingles Vaccine OK at Age 50 and Up

Merck's Zostavax Vaccine Approved for 50-Somethings
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 24, 2011 - People age 50 and older can now get Merck's Zostavax shingles vaccine, the FDA today ruled.

The vaccine already was approved for people age 60 and older. The approval is based on a Merck clinical trial that showed the vaccine to be about 70% effective in preventing shingles in the younger age group.

The study also found that even when vaccinated 50-somethings did get shingles, they suffered far less pain and far shorter bouts of the painful, sometimes disabling disease.

"The likelihood of shingles increases with age. The availability of Zostavax to a younger age group provides an additional opportunity to prevent this often painful and debilitating disease," Karen Midthun, MD, director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, says in a news release.

Shingles -- known to doctors as herpes zoster-- is caused by the same herpes virus that causes chickenpox: varicella zoster. But when chickenpox gets better, the virus doesn't go away. It hides in nerve roots. When reactivated in later years, the virus erupts into extremely painful shingles-like lesions.

Zostavax is basically the same as the chickenpox vaccine, given at a far higher dose. Clinical trials show the vaccine to be both safe and effective.

Why get vaccinated at age 50? That's when shingles risk shoots up. Before age 50, about two people in a thousand get shingles. After age 50, about six people in a thousand get shingles. A person's lifetime risk of shingles is about 30%.

Even people who already have had shingles can get it again. Their risk of a second case is about the same as the risk of getting a first case.

The biggest drawback to Zostavax is its cost. The catalog price is about $161.50, about 10 to 20 times the cost of flu vaccine.

Today on WebMD

varicella zoster virus
How to recognize this painful rash.
shingles rash
Symptoms, causes, and treatment.
nurse administering flu vaccine
8 questions, answered.
senior woman
Are you more likely to get it?
shingles rash
woman holding her lower back
New PHN Drug Cuts Lingering Shingles Pain
mature man with serious expression