Should I Get the Shingles Vaccine?

Shingles is a painful, viral rash that develops on one side of the body along the path of a nerve. It is a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is a reemergence of the virus after having chickenpox.

There is an available vaccine, Shingrix, that can help prevent shingles. Read on to learn more about its benefits and risks.

Shingles Vaccine

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Reasons to Get the Shingles Vaccine

Once a person develops chickenpox after contracting the varicella-zoster virus, the virus never leaves the body. It remains dormant in the nerve roots and can reappear as shingles later in life.

The primary symptom of shingles is a painful rash on one side of the body, most often on the torso or face. People initially have pain or a burning sensation on the skin without a rash, and then painful blisters develop. The rash lasts approximately seven to 10 days and fully clears within two to four weeks.

The likelihood of developing shingles increases dramatically after age 50. Therefore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all adults age 50 and over receive two doses of Shingrix to prevent shingles. The vaccine is recommended even if a person is unsure if they have ever had chickenpox.

People with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for shingles. Therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recently approved Shingrix vaccination for adults age 18 and older who are at risk for shingles due to immunodeficiency or immunosuppression caused by an underlying disease or medication.

Avoid Repeat Shingles

If you already have had shingles, the vaccine can help protect you against getting it again. You do not need to wait a specific amount of time after having shingles before receiving the vaccine, but generally, the rash should be resolved.

Almost 1 out of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime, but most people only have it once.

Complications of Shingles

Shingles can lead to serious complications. The most common complication of shingles is postherpetic neuralgia, or severe pain in the rash area that lasts for months or years. Approximately 10%–18% of people will experience this complication, and the risk of the complication increases with age.

Other rare complications of shingles can include:

  • Blindness due to eye involvement
  • Pneumonia
  • Hearing problems
  • Encephalitis (inflammation of the brain)
  • Rarely, death

Who Shouldn't Get It

A person should not get Shingrix if:

  • They have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or the first dose of the vaccine.
  • They test negative for immunity to varicella-zoster virus.
  • They currently have shingles.
  • They are pregnant.

If you are experiencing a moderate to severe illness, with a fever or not, you should consider waiting until you are better before getting the vaccine.

Shingles vs. Chickenpox Vaccine

A person who tests negative for immunity to the varicella-zoster virus has not had chickenpox. Therefore, they should receive the chickenpox vaccine instead of the shingles vaccine.

Shingles Vaccine Schedule

Shingrix is a two-shot vaccine series. People should receive their second shot two to six months after their first shot.

Shingles Vaccine Ingredients

Shingrix is a recombinant vaccine. This means it contains a protein from a killed virus that helps create an immune response. It does not have a live virus.

Additionally, Shingrix is not egg-based, and it does not contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative.

Shingrix vs. Zostavax

Zostavax was a shingles vaccine that contained live, weakened virus. As of late 2020, Zostavax is no longer available in the United States. Its manufacturer pulled it from the market.

Shortly before its discontinuation, the FDA asked for a label change that would indicate there was a risk of developing chickenpox or shingles with the live vaccine and that it could potentially cause a severe problem with the eyes.

People who previously received the Zostavax vaccine should now consider getting Shingrix.

Shingrix Vaccine Side Effects

The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine include:

  • Pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Shivering
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach

Some research has shown that there might be an increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves, in adults age 65 and older who receive the shingles vaccine. One study showed that the risk occurred during 42 days of follow-up after vaccination. However, other safety studies have not been conducted to reaffirm this information.

How Effective Is Shingrix?

Shingrix is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people ages 50–69 years, and 91% effective in people age 70 and older. A person still has a small risk of developing shingles even if vaccinated.

Shingles Vaccine and Insurance

Private health insurance plans often cover vaccination costs. Still, a patient might have a charge depending on the specific insurance plan.

Medicaid may or may not cover the vaccine cost. Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine, but there may be a cost to the patient depending on the plan. Usually, the fees are less than $50 per dose.

Medicare Part B does not cover the shingles vaccine.

Where to Get Vaccinated

Shingrix is available at pharmacies and healthcare providers' offices. The maker of the vaccine offers a vaccine locator on this website. They recommend calling ahead to confirm that your chosen location has the vaccine in stock. 

Summary

Shingles is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox). People usually develop the rash later in life.

Shingrix is a highly effective vaccine that can reduce a person’s risk of developing shingles and painful complications. The CDC recommends vaccination for adults age 50 and over, or any adult who is immunocompromised. It is a two-shot series offered in healthcare offices and pharmacies. 

A Word From Verywell

Shingles is an incredibly painful rash, and its complication can be debilitating. It is best to avoid it altogether by getting the highly effective Shingrix vaccine. Discuss the vaccine with your healthcare provider to see if it is right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does the shingles vaccine work?

    Shingrix is highly effective. It is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people ages 50–69 years, and 91% effective in people age 70 and older. A person has a small risk of developing shingles if vaccinated.

  • What if you’ve never had chickenpox?

    If a person knows for sure that they have never had chickenpox and they have tested negative for immunity to varicella-zoster, then they should be vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine instead. However, chickenpox immunity testing is not required before receiving the shingles vaccine. And, shingles vaccination is indicated even if chickenpox infection history is unknown.

  • How do you know if you’re allergic to Shingrix?

    Severe allergic reactions to this vaccine are infrequent. The only way to know if you are allergic to Shingrix is to develop allergy symptoms after the first dose. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include hives, swelling of the face and throat, difficulty breathing, a fast heart rate, dizziness, and weakness. These symptoms usually develop a few minutes to a few hours after vaccination.

  • Can you still get shingles after the vaccine?

    There is a chance that a person can develop shingles even if vaccinated, since no vaccine is 100% effective.

9 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. Shingles (herpes zoster).

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shingles vaccination.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Shingrix.

  4. GlaxoSmithKline. Shingrix.

  5. GlaxoSmithKline. Shingrix: mechanism of action.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What everyone should know about Zostavax.

  7. US Food and Drug Administration. FDA requires a warning about Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) be included in the prescribing information for Shingrix.

  8. GlaxoSmithKline. Shingrix: cost and coverage.

  9. GlaxoSmithKline. Shingrix: vaccine locator.

By Christine Zink, MD
Dr. Christine Zink, MD, is a board-certified emergency medicine with expertise in the wilderness and global medicine. She completed her medical training at Weill Cornell Medical College and residency in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She utilizes 15-years of clinical experience in her medical writing.