The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus, which doctors call the “varicella-zoster” virus. It primes your immune system to defend against the disease.
Some people who get the vaccine still get shingles. But they're more likely to have shorter periods of shingles-related nerve pain called post-herpetic neuralgia, which is very painful and can last weeks, months, or even years after the rash goes away.
Who Should Get the Vaccine?
It’s approved for people as young as 50. The CDC recommends it for everyone 60 and older who doesn’t have a medical reason to skip it.
Shingles is most common in people 50 or older, those who have medical conditions that keep the immune system from working properly, or people who take medicines that suppress the immune system.
Who Should Not Get It?
You shouldn’t get the shingles vaccine if:
You have a weakened immune system due to a medical condition or certain types of prescription drugs.
You're getting cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy.
You've had cancer in your bone marrow or lymph system, such as leukemia or lymphoma.
You have untreated, active tuberculosis.
You're allergic to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other ingredient of the shingles vaccine.
You’re pregnant. Women should not become pregnant until at least 3 months after getting the shingles vaccine.
If you have a minor illness like a cold, it's OK to get the vaccine. But if you're moderately or severely sick, it's best to wait until you recover to get vaccinated.
Do I Still Need It if I’ve Had Chickenpox in the Past?
Yes. The virus stays inactive in your body long after you’ve had chickenpox, and can flare up as shingles.
What Are the Side Effects?
You might notice some redness, soreness, swelling, or itching on the back of your arm where you get the shot. Less common side effects include headache.