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What You Need to Know about the New Shingles Vaccine

December 28, 2017

One out of 3 Americans will develop shingles in his or her lifetime, but a recently approved vaccine could help more people avoid this condition.

Shingles is a condition that occurs as a result of a viral infection. When someone has shingles, he or she will have a painful, blistery skin rash that usually appears across the chest. Shingles, which is caused by the same virus responsible for chickenpox, can last anywhere from two to four weeks.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first shingles vaccine in 2006. The drug, called Zostavax, is a one-dose vaccine that is 50 percent effective overall in people age 60 and older, with 64 percent effectiveness in people age 60 to 69 years of age and decreased effectiveness in people age 70 and older. The risk of shingles increases with age, so a vaccine that is more effective in the senior population could prevent more people from getting sick.

A new shingles vaccine, the second such drug approved by the FDA, could do just that. The drug, called Shingrix, is more than 90 percent effective overall. However, Shingrix is most effective in older people. The drug is 97 percent effective in people age 50 to 69 and 91 percent effective in people age 70 or older. 

The FDA approved Shingrix, a two-dose vaccine administered eight weeks apart that also contains an immune system booster, after a Phase III clinical trial that involved more than 38,000 participants. In the trial, researchers discovered the vaccine had an efficacy of 90 percent across all age groups and still maintained its effectiveness during a follow-up period of four years. The drug also reduced a form of chronic nerve pain that is a most commonly associated with shingles.

Should You Get the Shingles Vaccine?

If you’ve ever had chickenpox, then you’re at risk for getting shingles and you should get the vaccine. People who are 60 and older, in particular, should get vaccinated since the risk of this condition increases with age. Seniors also are at greater risk for compromised immune systems, so getting the vaccine could prevent you from getting sick or reduce the severity of your illness if you do get shingles. If you’re under age 60 and are unsure of whether you’ve ever had chickenpox, talk to your doctor about whether you should get the shingles vaccine. The new vaccine can be effective for up to four years, so people nearing age 60 should consider getting vaccinated as they approach the age of higher risk. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports this idea, as its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to recommend Shingrix for people 50 and older. People who have previously been vaccinated with Zostavax should talk to their doctor about whether they should get the new shingles vaccine.

Also, not all insurances may cover the cost of Shingrix, so check with your insurance first to see if it is covered then talk with your doctor to see if you need it.

While Shingrix is more effective than the previous shingles vaccine, anyone who gets vaccinated should be aware of the potential side effects. The most common side effects are headache, fever muscle pain, redness, shivering, swelling at the injection site, tiredness and upset stomach.

Even with these potential side effects, it is better to get vaccinated. Shingrix became available at the end of November, so schedule an appointment with your doctor or at your local pharmacy clinic to get the vaccine as soon as possible. 


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