Shingles Vaccine Facts

You've probably heard of shingles, and maybe you know there's a vaccine to protect against it.

Should you get the shot? Here's what you need to know.

Q. Why do I need the shingles vaccine?

It's the only way to lower your risk of getting this a condition, which causes a rash, headache, chills, upset stomach, and shooting pain. Some people who get shingles have long-lasting nerve damage, which means you could have severe pain for weeks, months, or years after the rash has cleared up.

Q. Who's at risk for shingles?

About 1 million Americans get the condition every year. It's caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

If you've had chickenpox, the virus, called varicella, can stay in your body for many years and later return as shingles. This can happen at any time, though the risk goes up with age. About half of the people who get shingles are 60 or older. People with weakened immune systems due to chemotherapy, conditions like HIV, or medicines are also more likely to get it.

Q. Who should get this vaccine?

It's recommended for people 60 or older, but it's approved for people as young as 50.

Q. What if I never had chickenpox?

You should still talk to your doctor about getting the vaccine. There's a good chance that you did have chickenpox as a child but don't remember it. Studies show that 99% of Americans over 40 had chickenpox at some point.

Q. What if I already had shingles?

Unlike with chickenpox, you can get shingles more than once. Getting vaccinated will lower your chances of getting it again. If you have shingles now, your doctor may recommend waiting for the rash to disappear before you get vaccinated.

Q. How effective is it?

The vaccine cuts your chances of getting shingles by 51%. It also slashes the risk of shingles-related nerve damage by 67%. That means even if you do end up getting shingles, the vaccine could help you dodge the most serious complications.

Q. Are there side effects?

Rarely. The most common ones are redness, pain or tenderness, swelling, and itchiness.

Q. Should some people skip the shingles vaccine?

You should not get this vaccine if you're allergic to gelatin or neomycin (an antibiotic), or if you have a weakened immune system. Women who are pregnant should wait to get this shot as well. Talk to your doctor if you have any other medical conditions or serious allergies.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on November 19, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Shingles Vaccination: What Everyone Should Know."

Immunization Action Coalition: "Ask the Experts: Diseases and Vaccines: Zoster (Shingles)."

Vaccines.gov: "Shingles (Herpes Zoster)."

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