Skip to content

    Vaccines Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Shingles Vaccine: Expert Q&A

    Never Too Late to Seek Protection Against 'Debilitating' Virus
    By Scott Harris
    WebMD Feature
    Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

    Shingles can make everyday tasks -- from getting dressed to getting into bed -- a painful proposition. The culprit behind this agonizing rash, which is especially common in older people, is the same virus responsible for another common but debilitating condition: chicken pox.

    "Most of us never get rid of the chicken pox virus," William Schaffner, MD, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, tells WebMD. "It lies dormant like a bear in a cave during winter. When a person gets shingles, the virus has reawakened."

    Recommended Related to Adult Vaccines

    HPV Vaccine for Adults

    Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the virus that causes cervical cancer in women and genital warts in men and women. The HPV vaccine effectively prevents infection with the HPV types responsible for most cervical cancers and can also prevent genital warts. HPV vaccination is most effective during childhood or adolescence, but adults can also benefit from the HPV vaccine.

    Read the HPV Vaccine for Adults article > >

    Fortunately, a vaccine is available that greatly reduces the risk of shingles. Schaffner, who is also a professor in Vanderbilt University School of Medicine's infectious diseases division and chair of the school’s department of preventive medicine, spoke with WebMD about getting protected.

    Which adults need the shingles vaccine?

    The shingles vaccine is recommended for everyone age 50 or older who is not profoundly immunocompromised, which means their immune system is functioning and they have not recently had treatments like chemotherapy or high doses of steroids.

    When do I need to get it, and how often?

    "It is a one-shot vaccine. Coverage is available through Medicare, but it can be tough to get approval. You have to work the system a little."

    I already have shingles. Is it too late for the vaccine to help me?

    "No. It can still be very effective, although it is recommended that you wait for up to a year after the episode to get the vaccine."

    What are the risks and benefits of this vaccine?

    "Shingles is not life-threatening per se, but it can be pretty debilitating. If it involves your face or eyes, it can threaten your eyesight. Even after the rash abates, you can be left with pain in that section of the body that can be set off by even trivial stimuli, such as the touch of a shirt against the skin. Sometimes it can prevent people from leaving their house. The older we get, the greater the risk. If you survive to age 80, you have a 25% to 50% chance of having had shingles."

    "This is an extraordinarily safe vaccine. A few percentage points of people get chicken pox blisters around the site, but they are harmless and they go away."

    Is there any reason I shouldn’t get it?

    "Only if you have a compromised immune system."

    Reviewed on January 18, 2011

    Today on WebMD

    passport, pills and vaccine
    25 ways to protect yourself from illness.
    syringes and graph illustration
    Create a personalized schedule.
     
    flu shot signage
    Get answers to your questions
    gloved hand holding syringe
    Which ones do you need?
     
    woman walking
    Article
    Vaccine Schedule Are Your Childs Shots Up To Date
    Article
     
    69x75 thumbnail early pregnancy 02
    VIDEO
    gloved hand holding syringe
    Article
     
    adult vaccine injection
    ARTICLE
    woman peeking under sheets
    Tool
     
    cold season and vitamin C
    VIDEO
    Adult Meningitis Vaccines What You Should Know
    ARTICLE