Description

Vaccination is the best protection against shingles and its complications. Shingles is a disease that appears only in people who have already had chickenpox. It is characterized by painful skin lesions, often in the form of blisters, on one part of the body.

There are two shingles vaccines: 

The inactivated vaccine, called Shingrix, is made from pieces of virus. It has been available since January 2018 and is recommended for people age 50 and older. This vaccine is 97% effective in preventing shingles. Effectiveness is not reduced with age. However, if the disease develops in a person who has already been vaccinated, the risk of neuralgia, that is, pain that lasts for several months after the lesions have cleared up, is reduced by 90%. The vaccine is believed to provide protection for at least 4 years after vaccination, possibly for many years according to experts. Two doses, given 2 to 12 months apart, are needed to ensure long-term protection.

The live attenuated vaccine, called Zostavax, is made from weakened virus. It is authorized for people age 50 and older. It is around 65% effective in preventing shingles, but this effectiveness is reduced with age and the number of years since vaccination. However, if the disease develops in a person who has already been vaccinated against shingles, the risk of neuralgia, is significantly reduced. A single dose of the vaccine is recommended.

The inactivated shingles vaccine, Shingrix, should be used whenever possible.

Symptoms

Some symptoms may be caused by the vaccine, for example redness at the injection site. Other problems may occur by chance and are not related to the vaccine, for example a cold, gastroenteritis or a headache.

Both shingles vaccines are safe.

Shingrix vaccine

Most reactions are benign and short-lived, even if they are more common than those associated with the Zostavax vaccine.

In 17% of cases, the reactions caused by the vaccine prevent the person from going about their daily activities for 1 to 2 days. These reactions, which are less common in older people, occur a little more frequently when the 2nd dose is given

The Nature and Frequency of Possible Reactions to Vaccine
FrequencyPossible reactions to the vaccine

Very often
(less than 50% of people)

  • Pain at the infection site

Often
(less than 10% of people)

  • Redness and swelling at the injection site
  • Fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, fever or shivering 
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach ache 
  • Reactions prevent normal everyday activity

Zostavax vaccine

In most cases, this vaccine does not cause any reactions.

The Nature and Frequency of Possible Reactions to Vaccine
FrequencyPossible reactions to the vaccine

Very often
(less than 50% of people)

  • Pain, redness and swelling at the infection site

Often
(less than 10% of people)

  • Itching and warmth at the injection site

What to Do after Vaccination

Tips to follow immediately following vaccination

Wait 15 minutes before leaving premises where vaccine is received. If an allergic reaction occurs, the symptoms will appear a few minutes after the vaccination.

If you feel side effects, immediately inform the person giving the vaccine. That person will be able to treat you immediately.

Tips to follow at home

If you experience redness, pain or swelling at the injection site, apply a cold, damp compress on it.

Use medication for fever or discomfort if needed.

When to seek medical help

See a doctor if one of the following applies to you:

  • You experience serious and unusual symptoms
  • Your symptoms get worse instead of improving
  • Your symptoms last over 48 hours