NEWS

How Long Does the Shingles Vaccine Last?

older adult receiving bandage from doctor after shingles vaccine

Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • New data shows that the Shingrix vaccine is 89% effective at preventing shingles in older people for at least 10 years following the two-dose administration.
  • Previous studies had shown the shingles vaccine offered protection for up to seven years.
  • Since the vaccine’s efficacy is long-lasting, experts say it’s unlikely people will never need a shingles booster shot.

According to new data presented at IDWeek, the joint annual meeting of several infectious disease societies, the effectiveness of Shingrix, the vaccine to prevent shingles, appears to last at least 10 years.

Previous studies had shown the shingles vaccine was effective for seven years after the first dose was administered. But this new data shows it lasts even longer, and suggests Shingrix boosters are likely unnecessary.

Shingrix is recommended for people over age 50 and is administered as two shots given two to six months apart. It is also recommended for people under age 50 who are immunocompromised. The vaccine is a zoster vaccine recombinant, adjuvanted (an adjuvant is an ingredient added to vaccines to boost the immune response).

The latest findings from ongoing follow-up studies show that the vaccine is at least 89% effective in the 10 years after administration in people aged 50 and up.

The study, called Zoster-049, is a six-year extension of two, phase III randomized clinical trials (ZOE-50 and ZOE-70). It enrolled 7,413 participants in 18 countries.

Why Do We Need a Shingles Shot?

If you’ve had chickenpox, you’ve been infected with the varicella-zoster virus. That’s the same virus that causes shingles.

As you might remember from your childhood, the rash from chickenpox is itchy but usually doesn’t hurt. In most cases, chickenpox is a mild illness that doesn’t cause long-term problems.

After you got over a case of chickenpox, the virus stays in your body but goes dormant, meaning it’s not active. However, it can reactivate later in your life. If it does, you’ll get shingles.

Unlike chickenpox, a shingles rash can be extremely painful. Fever, headache, fatigue, and sensitivity to light are also common shingles symptoms.

There are also potentially serious health consequences of the infection. For example, if you get a shingles rash close to your eye, it can affect your vision and potentially cause blindness.

A case of shingles generally lasts between two and six weeks. The pain usually goes away when the rash does, but some people have pain that lingers for months or even years (a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia).  

Shingles can be treated with antiviral medications such as acyclovir or valacyclovir, which reduce the length of the outbreak. However, anyone who has had shingles will likely tell you to do whatever you can to avoid getting it in the first place. That’s where Shingrix comes in.

Great News for Us, Bad News for Varicella Zoster

William Schaffner, MD, a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Verywell the findings are great news.

“I didn’t think it was pretty good data—I thought it was great data. I mean, this is a spectacular vaccine,” he said.

Greg Poland, MD, the director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic and the editor-in-chief of the journal Vaccine, agreed, adding the vaccine is great news for us but bad news for the virus.

“Once you have chickenpox, you never get rid of it,” said Poland. “It’s always in your body as a chronic infection.” 

That may not be a major concern for healthy, young people. However, Poland explained that as we get older, our immune systems start to have a harder time keeping a chronic infection in check—what’s called “immunosenescence.”

Given the decline in immune function with age, there have been concerns that a shingles vaccine for older people would not be successful. However, according to Poland, the fact that shingles shot can still offer protection 10 years after an older person receives it “is a testament to the immunogenicity of the vaccine.”

Indeed, the data show that the efficacy rate for Shingrix during the first few years after vaccination is well above 90% and is still between 80% and 90% 10 years later.

Why You Probably Won’t Need a Shingles Booster

Poland and Schaffner both noted that since the effectiveness of Shingrix seems to be lasting, it’s not likely that people will ever need a shingles booster shot after they receive their primary series, given as two shots six months apart.

“At the moment, the recommendation is for everyone aged 50 and older to get this vaccine,” said Schaffner. “And after you’ve had your first two doses—so far—there does not appear to be a need for a follow-up.”

Poland said that researchers will “keep collecting data, as we always do” and if there is ever evidence that the vaccine has lost effectiveness, “we would know in time to either recommend a booster dose—which I don’t think it’s going to be likely—or do something else.”

Alison Hunt, a spokesperson for GSK, the manufacturer of Shingrix, told Verywell that the company is “committed to studying the longer-term efficacy, immunogenicity, and safety of the vaccine” which was licensed in 2017.

“The Zoster-049 study is still ongoing with final data expected in 2024. Upon study completion, the product information may be updated as appropriate,” Hunt said.

Will We Always Need Shingles Shots?

People over the age of 50 usually had chickenpox as kids because the virus that causes it, varicella-zoster, is highly contagious. That said, there’s now a generation of people who managed to avoid the once-common childhood illness because a chickenpox vaccine has been available in the United States since 1995.

Poland pointed out that only people who had chickenpox can get shingles, and since chickenpox can be prevented, there may come a time when shingles will be rare.

Once we reach a point where most people were vaccinated against chickenpox as children, Poland said it’s still an open question as to whether shingles vaccines will continue to be necessary.

What This Means For You

The shingles vaccine has been found to be effective for up to 10 years after it’s given. Since the protection lasts so long, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever need shingles booster shots. Ask your provider if you’re eligible for a shingles vaccine.

8 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. Strezova A, Diez-Domingo J, Al Shawafi K, et al. Long-term protection against herpes zoster by the adjuvanted recombinant zoster vaccine: interim efficacy, immunogenicity, and safety results up to 10 years after initial vaccination. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2022;9(10):ofac485. doi:10.1093/ofid/ofac485

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What everyone should know about the shingles vaccine (Shingrix).

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster): vaccination.

  4. National Cancer Institute. Definition of zoster vaccine recombinant, adjuvanted.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles (herpes zoster): clinical overview.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox complications.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating shingles.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chickenpox vaccination: what everyone should know.

By Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette has over 30 years' experience writing about health and medicine. She is the former managing editor of Drug Topics magazine.