Shingles can be very painful, especially for people older than 60, in whom it is more common.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles shot (vaccine). Most adults ages 50 and older can get the shot.
The shot greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. If you get shingles anyway, you are less likely to have the long-term pain that can occur after shingles than if you hadn't had the shot.
You shouldn't get the shot if you are pregnant or have a weak immune system.
If you’ve already had shingles, you are not likely to get it again. But some people do.
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection that occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, but it is most common in older adults.
Shingles usually causes a rash that can be very painful. The rash is usually on your back or chest and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. For some people, the severe pain continues long after the rash clears up.
Shingles can be very hard on older people. The pain can affect their quality of life. For some, the pain lasts for a year or longer.
What are your chances of getting shingles?
Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles. But most people have had chickenpox, so shingles is fairly common.
Experts say that out of 100 people, about 30 will get shingles sometime in their lives.1 And the risk is higher for people age 60 and older. Older people are also more likely to have severe pain with shingles.
Most people who get shingles will not get it again. But some people get shingles more than once.
How well does the shot work?
The shot greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. Research shows that:2
The shot can lower your chances of getting shingles by about half.
If you get the shot and still get shingles, you are likely to have much less pain and for a much shorter time.
The shot works even better for people ages 60 to 69. In that age group, it lowers the chances of getting shingles by about two-thirds.
Although the shot doesn't prevent shingles quite as well in people age 70 or older, it does make shingles less severe more than half the time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles shot(What is a PDF document?). Most adults ages 50 and older can get the shot.
What are the risks and side effects of the shingles shot?
Side effects include:
Redness, swelling, or soreness at the spot where the needle went in.
A high fever or serious allergic reaction (but this is rare).
Getting the shot has some risks. For example:
You might get shingles anyway. But it probably won't be as painful or last as long.
You may need another shot later in life. Doctors don't know how long the shot lasts.
You shouldn't get the shot if:
You have a weak immune system.
You are ill with more than a mild cold. This includes having a fever of 101.3°F (38.5°C) or higher.
You are allergic to gelatin or neomycin, which are ingredients in the shingles vaccine. Neomycin is an antibiotic that is used in first-aid ointments such as Neosporin, in some eye drops, and in certain underarm deodorants.
You are pregnant or you might be pregnant.
Some people worry about the preservatives used in some vaccines. The shingles vaccine does not contain any preservatives.
Why might your doctor recommend that you get a shingles shot?
You are 50 years or older.
The shot can lower your chances of getting shingles by about half.2
If you get the shot and still get shingles, you are likely to have less pain for a shorter time.2
Personal stories about considering
a shingles shot
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
I talked to my doctor about the shingles shot and I think I'm going to get it. My wife had shingles 2 years ago, and she was really in a lot of pain. If I can avoid that by getting a shot, it will really be worth it to me.
I'm not going to get a shot, at least not right now. I don't like to take medicines of any kind if I don't have to. And my doctor said the shot isn't a guarantee. I could get shingles anyway.
I'm definitely getting a shot, even though I've already had shingles. I know it's rare to get shingles a second time, but I do not want to go through that again.