The Shingrix Vaccine: What You Need to Know

The risk of having shingles goes up with age, and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to be diagnosed with it. There is currently one vaccine that can help prevent shingles in the United States.

This article discusses what you need to know about Shingrix, the shingles vaccine.

Why Get Vaccinated?

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). It’s estimated that up to 10%–18% of people who get shingles will have PHN. PHN develops in the areas where the shingles rash has been, even after the rash clears up. It can last for months or years after the rash goes away. The risk of PHN with shingles goes up with age, so getting the shingles vaccine is an effective way to protect yourself from this painful condition. 

Older woman getting injected with a vaccine by doctor in upper arm

Cavan Images / Getty Images

What to Know About Shingrix

The Shingrix vaccine strongly protects against shingles and PHN and has been proven to be more than 90% effective. It is recommended for adults 50 and older. According to the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), efficacy against shingles was 97% for people 50–59 years of age, 97% for people 60–69, and 91% for people 70 and older. Among people 70+ vaccine efficacy was 85% four years after vaccination.  

Shingrix is a two-dose vaccine, and the second dose is given two–six months after the first one. There is no maximum age limit to receive Shingrix. Most primary care doctors and pharmacies offer it throughout the year. 

The Shingrix vaccine is a recombinant zoster vaccine; it works by boosting your body's immunity against the zoster virus so that shingles does not develop. The vaccine is safe for most adults, even people with a compromised immune system. Shingrix is recommended for people 19 and older who are (or will be) immunodeficient or immunosuppressed because of disease or therapy.

Who Should Get the Shingrix Vaccine?

Shingrix is recommended for adults 50 years and older, and:

  • Those who have received the Zostavax vaccine, which is no longer available in the United States
  • Those who either have already had shingles in the past or have never had shingles
  • Those who either have already had chickenpox in the past or do not know whether they have ever had chickenpox
  • Those who have received varicella (chickenpox) vaccine
  • Those 19 or older who are or will be immunodeficient or immunosuppressed because of disease or therapy

There is no maximum age for getting Shingrix.

Who Should Not Get the Shingrix Vaccine?

Shingrix is not recommended for:

  • Anyone with a history of a life-threatening allergic reaction to the vaccine
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Anyone with a current shingles infection
  • Anyone with a moderate to severe illness, with or without fever
  • Those who have never been infected with chickenpox (these individuals should receive the chickenpox vaccine instead); lab testing to verify a lack of previous infection is available, although it is not routinely performed.

If you are not sure if you have ever had chickenpox, the CDC recommends getting the shingles vaccine. It’s estimated that more than 99% of Americans born on or before 1980 have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember having the disease. 

Paying for Shingrix

The following health plans cover the Shingrix vaccine for adults age 50 and older:

  • Medicare Part D (co-pay depends on your plan)
  • Medicaid (depends on your state)
  • Private health insurance (possible co-pay)
  • Vaccine assistance programs 

Medicare Part B does not cover the shingles vaccine. Talk with your primary care doctor or local pharmacist to find out if your insurance covers the vaccine and how to obtain financial assistance, if needed. 

Potential Side Effects

As with any vaccine, the Shingrix vaccine comes with possible side effects. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site. About 80% of those who receive the vaccine report mild to moderate arm soreness. You may also notice redness and some mild swelling at the injection site.

Other possible side effects include:

  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Mild fever
  • Stomach upset

Side effects can be severe enough to prevent people from going about their regular daily activities. Side effects typically last about two–three days, and were more common in younger people. 

If you develop uncomfortable side effects from your first dose of the vaccine, you still are encouraged to get the second dose so that you are fully protected from shingles and PHN. 

While rare, it is possible to experience a severe allergic reaction to the shingles vaccine. Signs of a serious reaction include:

  • Facial swelling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Racing heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness 

If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms after receiving a vaccine, call 911 or seek emergency treatment right away. 

Summary

The Shingrix vaccine is the best way to prevent shingles or PHN, which can cause pain so severe that it interferes with your daily life. However, it is not suitable for anyone who is pregnant, has an active shingles infection, has a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, or has never had chickenpox before (confirmed by lab testing).

A Word From Verywell

Shingles is a painful rash that can lead to months to years of pain due to postherpetic neuralgia. It can activate at any time, and the best way to prevent it is with the Shingrix vaccine. If you are age 50 or older, talk with your healthcare provider about scheduling the two doses. However, this vaccine is not safe for you if you have ever experienced a severe allergic reaction to Shingrix or any of its components or if you are pregnant. If you are currently infected with shingles, wait until you feel better before scheduling the vaccine. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Shingles (Herpes Zoster).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingrix shingles vaccination.

  3. Immunization Action Coalition (IAC). Ask the Experts - Zoster (shingles).

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Immunization schedules | Schedule changes & guidance.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine information statement | Shingles recombinant.

  6. Shingrix. Side Effects.

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.