What Are the Potential Side Effects Of the Shingles Vaccine?

Shingles (herpes zoster) is caused by the chickenpox virus (varicella-zoster virus or VZV). After you have chickenpox, VZV stays dormant in your body.

If it reactivates later, it causes shingles. The shingles vaccination is the only way to prevent shingles or complications from them.

Studies suggest the vaccine is safe and 90% effective. Even so, it's not safe for some people.

This article looks at shingles symptoms and complications, who should and shouldn't get the shingles vaccine, and the side effects it may cause.

shingles vaccine side effects

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Shingles Symptoms and Complications

Shingles symptoms comes in two stages: the prodromal stage and the eruptive stage.

Prodromal Stage

Prodromal symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Severe burning, stinging, or shooting pains in one region of your body

The skin in the painful area may look and feel like a sunburn.

Eruptive Stage

About three to five days later, you develop a painful, pimple-like rash in the area where you've had pain. It generally feels prickly when you touch it.

Then the pimples turn into blisters. Your skin may be red and swollen, as well. The pain is often described as excruciating.

The virus affects your nerves and only strikes the area controlled by a single nerve. Those areas are called dermatomes. Shingles won't spread beyond the dermatome.

Complications

After the rash clears up, some people are left with complications. Common ones include:

  • Postherpetic neuralgia: Damaged nerves cause lingering pain where the rash was. This can be a sharp, deep, burning pain that lasts for three months or longer.
  • Bacterial skin infections: When shingles blisters pop, bacteria can get in.
  • Facial pain: Sometimes shingles affects three nerve branches in the face and leaves pain behind.
  • Eye damage: One branch of the facial nerve goes to the eye. Damage there can lead to eye damage, which can be severe.

If you've had shingles and think you're developing any of these complications, get immediate medical attention.

Who Should Get a Shingles Vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should get a shingles vaccine if you:

  • Are healthy and over 50
  • Haven't had shingles
  • Aren't sure whether you've had chickenpox
  • Have had shingles before (Some people can get shingles two or three times.)
  • Had the Zostavax shingles vaccine (It's no longer available in the United States.) 

An estimated 99% of Americans over 40 have had chickenpox.

Did You Have the Zostavax Vaccine?

If you were vaccinated with Zostavax, ask your healthcare provider when you should get the newer Shingrix vaccine.

Who Shouldn't Get a Shingles Vaccine?

The CDC says some people shouldn't get the shingles vaccine. That includes those who:

  • Are allergic to the vaccine
  • Tested negative for VZV immunity (This means you haven't had chickenpox and should get that vaccine instead.)
  • Currently have shingles
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Have a severe or moderate acute illness, such as a respiratory infection
  • Have a temperature of 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

Your healthcare provider can answer any questions you have about whether the vaccine is safe for you.

Shingles isn't generally life-threatening. It can be, though, if your immune system is compromised.

Potential Side Effects

Studies have shown that the shingles vaccine is safe. It's a two-shot series. Some people have temporary side effects afterward.

Common side effects usually last for two or three days. They include:

  • Mild to moderate pain in the injection arm
  • Redness and swelling at the injection site
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea

The CDC says about one in six people feel sick for a few days after being vaccinated. Some people only react to one dose while others react to both of them.

Summary

Shingles comes from the same virus as chickenpox. The shingles vaccine is the only way to prevent it.

The shingles rash can be intensely painful. Some people develop complications, including lingering nerve pain and skin infections.

Most people can be safely vaccinated. Several conditions or circumstances may make it dangerous for you, though. Your healthcare provider can help you decide whether it's safe or not.

Side effects may make you feel sick for a few days after being vaccinated.

A Word From Verywell

If you have side effects from the shingles vaccine, the CDC recommends reporting them to the Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Or your healthcare provider may file this for you. You can file a report by calling 1-800-822-7967. 

If you have questions or concerns about the vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider about them.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How often do you need to get the shingles vaccine?

    Shingrix (the shingles vaccine) is a two-dose series. You should get the doses between two and six months apart.

  • How long is shingles contagious?

    Shingles isn't generally contagious. But you can spread the virus to someone with no immunity to chickenpox.

    The virus can be spread during the blister phase of the rash, which can last up to five weeks. Keeping the rash covered can help prevent spreading.

  • Can you get shingles after receiving the vaccine?

    It's unlikely to get shingles after receiving the vaccine. Clinical trials have shown that Shingrix prevents shingles in at least 91% of people over 50. That age group is the most at-risk of developing shingles.

  • Who should get the shingles vaccine?

    All healthy adults over 50 should get the shingles vaccine unless they have contraindications such as an allergy or pregnancy. This includes people who:

    • Have previously had shingles
    • Received Zostavax (a shingles vaccine that's now off the market)
    • Don't know if they've had chickenpox
  • How long do shingles vaccine side effects last?

    Shingles vaccine side effects typically last for up to three days. These side effects can include pain at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, stomach pain, nausea, fever, or chills.

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10 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.
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