Side Effects Of The Shingles Vaccine: Is It Safe
If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus hasnt completely gone away. It hides dormant in your body and can reemerge many years later as shingles.
About 1 in 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime. This is why vaccination is important. But you should also be prepared for possible side effects. In this article, well discuss the side effects, and talk about who should get the vaccine.
Older adults are most likely to develop shingles. This is why the shingles vaccine is recommended for people ages 50 and older.
Shingrix is the only shingles vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration .
The Shingrix vaccine is a recombinant vaccine. This means vaccine manufacturers created it by altering and purifying DNA that creates an immune response to fight the virus.
The CDC recommends Shingrix for the prevention of shingles and related complications. The Shingrix vaccine is also recommended for anyone who has already gotten another type of shingles vaccine.
Currently, the CDC recommends healthy people ages 50 and older get the Shingrix vaccine. Doctors administer the vaccine in two doses, which are given 2 to 6 months apart.
The Shingrix vaccine has high success rates in protecting people against shingles.
The Shingrix vaccine is as much as effective in preventing shingles. The same is true for Shingrix and postherpetic neuralgia.
More Information On Side Effects
Reactions listed under possible side effects or adverse events on vaccine product information sheets may not all be directly linked to the vaccine. See Vaccine side effects and adverse reactions for more information on why this is the case.
If you are concerned about any reactions that occur after vaccination, consult your doctor. In the UK you can report suspected vaccine side effects to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency through the Yellow Card Scheme . See more information on the Yellow Card scheme and monitoring of vaccine safety.
Coadministration With Other Vaccines
Recombinant and adjuvanted vaccines, such as RZV, can be administered concomitantly at different anatomic sites with other adult vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines .
- Concomitant administration of RZV with Fluarix Quadrivalent , 23-valent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine , tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine , and 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine has been studied, and there was no evidence for interference in the immune response to either vaccine or safety concerns .
- Coadministration of RZV with adjuvanted influenza vaccine and COVID-19 vaccines is being studied.
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The Link Between Cancer And Shingles
Also called herpes zoster, shingles is a condition characterized by a painful rash on one side of the face or body. It’s caused by the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus in the body .
People diagnosed with lung cancer and other solid tumor cancers are at a higher risk for developing shingles.
More specifically, the highest risk for shingles in people with solid tumor cancers includes those who:
- Have been recently diagnosed
- Are undergoing chemotherapy
The risk of developing shingles is also higher in people with blood-related cancers.
Both cancer and cancer treatments, including chemotherapy, impact your immune system and reduce your ability to fight off infections.
What Is The Brand Name Of The Shingles Vaccine
There are 2 shingles vaccines used in the UK:
- Zostavax, a live vaccine given as 1 dose
- Shingrix, a non-live vaccine given as 2 doses, 2 months apart
Most people will have the Zostavax vaccine. The Shingrix vaccine is recommended if Zostavax is not suitable for you, for example if you have a condition that affects your immune system.
You can read more about the shingles vaccines in the patient information leaflets:
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Does The Shingles Vaccine Contain Thimerosal
You may be concerned about additives to the shingles vaccine, like thimerosal.
Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury. Its added to some vaccines to prevent bacteria and other germs from growing in them. The shingles vaccine contains thimerosal.
The worry about thimerosal arose when early research linked it to autism. This connection has since been found to be untrue.
Who Is At Risk Of Getting Shingles
The risk of shingles increases as individuals get older. In fact, about one in three Canadians will develop shingles in their lifetime and two out of three cases occur in individuals over 50 years of age. The severity of shingles and its complications increase with age. Individuals with weakened immune system are also at greater risk of getting shingles. People who develop shingles usually only have one episode in their lifetime, but it is possible to have recurring episodes.
The shingles vaccine can reduce your risk of getting shingles and the long-term pain it can cause.
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What Vaccines Can Help Prevent Shingles
There is currently one vaccine available in the U.S. to prevent shingles. Shingrix was approved in 2017 and it is more than 90% effective in preventing shingles. With Shingrix, you get two shots between 2 and 6 months apart and protection lasts an estimated 4-5 years. Doctors recommend it for healthy people over 50 as well as those 19 years of age and older who are or will be immunodeficient or immunosuppressed due to disease or therapy..
An earlier vaccine called Zostavax was removed from the market in 2020. That vaccine used a weak form of the chickenpox virus to send your bodyâs immune system into action to fight the disease. Shingrix does not. If you received the Zostavax vaccine, it is recommended that you also receive Shingrix.
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 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 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.
How Many Doses Of The Vaccine Do I Need
In most cases, the shingles vaccine is given as one dose.
If you have a severely weakened immune system you will be offered a second dose of the vaccine at least 8 weeks after your first dose.
Speak to a healthcare professional about getting other vaccines at the same time so they can advise what’s best for your individual circumstances.
You should ideally wait seven days between the coronavirus vaccination and shingles vaccination.
Vaccine Safety And Side Effects
Vaccines are very safe, and they can help keep you from getting serious or life-threatening diseases. The most common side effects for all these vaccines are mild and may include pain, swelling, or redness where the vaccine was given.
Before getting any vaccine, talk with a doctor or pharmacist about your health history, including past illnesses and treatments, as well as any allergies. A health care provider can address any concerns you have.
Its a good idea to keep your own vaccination record, listing the types and dates of your shots, along with any side effects or problems.
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A Look Back At Varicella
Even though chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, the conditions have different vaccines. The chickenpox vaccine made its debut in 1995, but a shingles vaccine didnt hit the market until about a decade later. The first shingles vaccine was Zostavax in 2006. However, this vaccine was taken off the market in 2020, following the release of another vaccine, called Shingrix, in 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that anyone who received Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.
Three groups of people absolutely should not receive the shingles vaccine. These are people who:
- currently have shingles
- previously had an allergic reaction to any components of the Shingrix vaccine
If you are pregnant or currently have shingles, its best to wait to get vaccinated until you are no longer pregnant or your shingles case clears up.
It may be difficult to know if you are allergic to any part of the vaccine, so speak with a doctor about any medication allergies you may have or previous reactions you experienced after vaccinations.
Most of the side effects of the shingles vaccine are limited and short-acting. Side effects usually appear in the first few days after your first or second dose of the vaccine and disappear within a few days.
Common side effects include things like:
- arm soreness or pain where the vaccine was injected
- swelling or redness at the injection site
Who Shouldn’t Get A Shingles Vaccine
The CDC says some people shouldn’t get the shingles vaccine. That includes those who:
- Have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine or after a dose of Shingrix
- Tested negative for VZV immunity
- Currently have shingles
- Have a severe or moderate acute illness, such as a respiratory infection
Your healthcare provider can answer any questions you have about whether the vaccine is safe for you.
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Can You Get Shingles After Youve Been Vaccinated
While the shingles vaccine is highly effective, some people can still get shingles. However, people who do get shingles after getting the shingles vaccine usually have milder symptoms and a shorter illness. Youll also be less likely to have complications from shingles, including postherpetic neuralgia.
Is Shingles Dangerous
Although people do not die from shingles, they can be severely hurt by it. Perhaps the most common and debilitating complication is persistent, long-lived pain. The pain can be so severe that it leads to sleeplessness feelings of helplessness and depression weight loss anorexia interference with basic daily activities, such as dressing, bathing and eating and inability to participate in normal social activities. The pain can last for months or even years. Alongside the pain caused by labor and that of corneal abrasions, the pain caused by shingles is among the most debilitating pains in medicine. Shingles-induced pain can be so relentlessly debilitating that it can be a cause for suicide.
About 15 of every 100 people with shingles have blisters that are associated with nerves around the eyes. This can result in reduced vision and blindness.
Scarring and concurrent bacterial infections can also occur at the site of the rash.
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What Is Brain Damage
Brain damage involves the destruction or deterioration of a persons brain cells.5
Most Zostavax cases involving brain damage pertain to acquired brain injuries. These injuries are associated with pressure on the brain and may result from a neurological illness .6
Symptoms of brain damage can include:
- difficulty processing information,
- sensory problems, and
- bladder or bowel dysfunction.10
Treatment typically involves medications and rehabilitative therapy. Most people that suffer from the condition recover at least partially. Severe cases of myelitis can lead to major disabilities.11
What Everyone Should Know About The Shingles Vaccine
CDC recommends that adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine called Shingrix to prevent shingles and the complications from the disease. Adults 19 years and older who have weakened immune systems because of disease or therapy should also get two doses of Shingrix, as they have a higher risk of getting shingles and related complications.
Your doctor or pharmacist can give you Shingrix as a shot in your upper arm.
Shingrix provides strong protection against shingles and PHN. In adults 50 years and older who have healthy immune systems, Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN. Immunity stays strong for at least the first 7 years after vaccination. In adults with weakened immune systems, studies show that Shingrix is 68%-91% effective in preventing shingles, depending on the condition that affects the immune system.
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How Is The Shingles Vaccine Made
The shingles vaccine available in the U.S., Shingrix®, contains a single protein from the surface of herpes zoster virus as well as two adjuvants: QS21 and monophosphoryl lipid A. QS21 is a soap-based molecule isolated from the bark of the Quillaja saponaria tree. Monophosphoryl lipid A is a detoxified form of lipopolysaccharide, a potent adjuvant taken from the surface of common bacteria.
The first shingles vaccine, called Zostavax®, is no longer available in the U.S. However, this version contained a more concentrated version of the same live, weakened virus as the current chickenpox vaccine. It contained about 14 times the amount of weakened chickenpox virus than the vaccine for children. This amount of virus was necessary to obtain a protective response in the aging immune systems of older adults. The introduction of Shingrix vaccine was important because adjuvants in the vaccine improved immune responses in older adults and decreased the need to use large quantities of the live, weakened virus also necessary to make chickenpox vaccine. For these two reasons Zostavax is no longer available in the U.S.
Vaccine Side Effects & Injury Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a vaccine side effect, you should contact a vaccine lawyer with experience in this type of complex litigation.
We have recently partnered with Schmidt & Clark, LLP a Nationally recognized law firm who handles vaccine lawsuits in all 50 states.
The lawyers at the firm offer a Free Confidential Case Evaluation and may be able to obtain financial compensation for you or a loved one by filing a vaccine lawsuit or claim with The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Contact Schmidt & Clark today by using the form below or by calling them directly at .
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Possible Side Effects From Vaccines
Any vaccine can cause side effects. For the most part these are minor and go away within a few days. Listed below are vaccines licensed in the United States and side effects that have been associated with each of them. This information is copied directly from CDCs Vaccine Information Statements , which in turn are derived from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendations for each vaccine.
Remember, vaccines are continually monitored for safety, and like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. However, a decision not to immunize a child also involves risk and could put the child and others who come into contact with him or her at risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease.
Are There Any Reasons I Shouldn’t Have The Shingles Vaccine
You shouldn’t have the shingles vaccine if:
- you’ve had a severe reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine
- you’ve had a severe reaction to a previous dose of the chickenpox vaccine
If you don’t have a severely weakened immune system, the shingles vaccine you’ll be offered contains a small trace of pork gelatine.
Gelatine is a common and essential ingredient in many medicines, including some vaccines.
Many faith groups, including Muslim and Jewish communities, have approved the use of gelatine-containing vaccines. It is, however, an individual choice whether or not to receive the shingles vaccine.
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Does The Vaccine Work
In December 2017 Public Health England published an evaluation of the first three years of the shingles vaccination programme in England . This showed that the shingles vaccine was 62% effective against shingles and 70 to 88% effective against post-herpetic neuralgia in this period. Public Health England estimates that there were 17000 fewer GP consultations for shingles than expected in this 3-year period.
In the early 2000s researchers carried out a very large study of Zostavax, the shingles vaccine used in the UK, involving over 38,000 adults aged 60 or older. The results showed that:
- In adults aged between 60 and 70, the vaccine reduced the number of cases of shingles by 51.3%
- In adults aged over 70, the vaccine reduced the number of cases of shingles by 38%
- The vaccine reduced the incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia by over 66% in all age groups
- For those who did get shingles, the vaccine reduced the severity of the disease.
Read the abstract of this study , published in 2005 by Oxman et al.
Adults aged 80 or over are not offered the shingles vaccine. This is because the effectiveness of the vaccine declines with age in older age groups.
Research Into Mrna Vaccines For Shingles
Several companies are researching the potential use of mRNA vaccines for shingles. Pfizer and BioNTech are partnering on an mRNA shingles vaccine just as they did with vaccines for the flu and COVID-19.
A major advantage to the technology is the ability to develop new vaccines quickly. The fact that mRNA vaccines are synthetic and dont rely on actual virus particles also means they can be quickly produced in large numbers.
While the Shingrix vaccination is considered safe, the FDA has confirmed a link between Shingrix and Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Phasing out the old vaccine with the introduction of a new one, as the FDA did when Shingrix replaced Zostavax, might eliminate this potential issue.
Pfizer and BioNTech hope to begin clinical trials later this year.
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