The Shingles Vaccine

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Frequently Asked Questions

The Shingles or Herpes Zoster Vaccine


How Can You Prevent Shingles?
Apart from getting the shingles vaccine there is no way of preventing the Chickenpox virus from reactivating in the form of Herpes Zoster, except by taking measures to strengthen your immune system. As the immune system tends to weaken with age, the centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the one-time-vaccination, Zostavax, for people over 60. However, the vaccination does not treat the disease itself or neuralgic pain that remains once the rash has gone. For treatment of the virus and the post viral pain please visit the page on shingles.

Is Zostavax safe?
In the United States, the vaccine has been tested in approximately 20,000 people over 60 and licensed as safe by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).

Side effects included headache and soreness, swelling, itching and redness around the area where the shot was given. Both the CDC and the FDA are monitoring the vaccine’s safety.

There is no evidence of transmission of the virus after vaccination and vaccinated persons can safely be in contact with babies’ toddlers, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.

Some people who get the shingles vaccine will develop a rash which resembles chicken pox around the vaccine site that should be covered while it lasts.

How effective is the herpes zoster vaccine?
In a clinical involving elderly people Zostavax reduced the risk of developing shingles by just over 50% and the risk of post-herpetic pain by 67%. The age most protected was aged 60 – 69.

Does the herpes zoster vaccine protect against genital herpes?
The shingles vaccine only protects against shingles or herpes zoster, but not against other forms of herpes.

How long does the vaccine last?
According to studies the vaccine lasts for a minimum of six years but studies continue to see exactly how much longer the protection lasts.

Who should NOT be vaccinated?
According to CDA the shingles vaccine should not be given to people who:

  • have had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin.
  • has a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine.
  • has a weakened immune system as a result of leukaemia, lymphoma, or any other blood or bone cancer.
  • are infected with HIV/AIDS
  • Have a T-cell count below 200.
  • Are being treated with drugs that affect the immune system, including high-dose steroids.
  • Pregnant women

Can I be vaccinated if I've already had shingles?
Pople who have had the disease can receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent future occurrences, no matter how long it has been since they were infected. The vaccination can be given immediately after the shingles rash has disappeared at the discretion of the family doctor.

Why is the vaccine only recommended for the over 60s ?
People over 50 are more likely to become infected, but the vaccine has only been tested on people over 60 who account for approximately half of all shingles cases. Future research will determine whether or not the vaccination will be offered to younger people.

It is recommended that everyone over 60 be vaccinated, even if they have not had chickenpox. According to CDA, studies show that more than 99% of Americans aged 40 and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember getting the disease.

Is there a maximum age for contracting shingles?
There is no maximum age for getting the vaccine. The older a person is, the more severe the effects of shingles typically are, so all adults 60 years old or older should get the shingles vaccine.


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