Does the Shingles Vaccine Work?

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There is only one vaccination approved for shingles in the United States.  The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, which has been available since 2006. Currently Zostavax claims to reduces the chance of developing shingles by 51% but new studies show that the number may be lower. 

This means that the vaccine is not effective for everyone, and even after receiving the vaccine, there is still a chance you will develop shingles.  Even if you do get shingles after receiving the Zostavax vaccine, there is still benefit to having the vaccination in your system, as it can ease the severity of the symptoms, and decrease the risk of dealing with the complication of Postherpetic Neuralgia.

Getting the shingles vaccine

The shingles vaccines (also referred to as zoster vaccine) is currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for individuals 60 years of age and older (but approved by the Food and Drug Administration for those aged 50 years and older).  It is administered as a one-time dose, via single shot, subcutaneously.  The shot is usually given in the fatty tissue of the arm.

If you are interested in getting the shingles vaccine, it is usually available in doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and some health department clinics.  Talk to your healthcare provider to find out about availability and pricing.

Effectiveness of shingles vaccine

It has been a widely accepted belief that protection from the shingles virus, following being vaccinated with Zostavax, lasts about 5 years.  Yet a study that was published in March of 2015 followed over 6,000 people for 11 years after their initial shingles vaccination. The study found that the vaccine’s effectiveness declined with time and, after eight years, was no longer effective in preventing shingles.  The study also showed that the vaccination effectiveness declined more rapidly in adults over the age of 60.  Thus, those who receive the vaccination before the age of 60 most likely will not be protected later in life, and may require another vaccination.  Either way, it is clear the effectiveness of the Zostavax vaccine for the prevention of herpes zoster declines over time.

Booster for Zostavax

As research continues on the shingles vaccine Zostavax, there may be changes in terms of recommendations.  The Journal of Infectious Diseases published a study (also in 2015) regarding individuals who received a “booster dose” of Zostavax.  The study showed the booster dose was safe and effective in individuals aged 70 and older, who had been initially vaccinated more than 10 years prior to their second dose.  It also confirmed that getting the booster increased immunity to shingles (herpes zoster) in those who received it.  Unfortunately the Zostavax booster is not yet approved, but it does point to promising advancement in the realm of shingles prevention.

Because the booster shingles vaccine is not approved, it is still the recommendation to wait until age 60 or over to receive the Zostavax vaccine, as the shingles risk increases with age.

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