Overview of Shingles and the Chicken Pox Vaccine

Vaxopedia

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What is causing a rise in shingles cases?. Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Among other anti-vaccine myths and conspiracy theories, one that is popular is that the chicken pox vaccine is responsible for a surge in shingles cases.

Why?

Perhaps because there are fewer children with chicken pox to boost our immunity to the chicken pox virus, thereby increasing the risk for reactivation and the development of shingles. This is still one of the reasons that some countries don't have a routine chicken pox vaccine program for their kids.

It has shown to not be true though.

Shingles and Chicken Pox

As a reminder, if you get a natural chicken pox infection, the chicken pox (varicella zoster) virus then remains in your body in an inactive or dormant state. At some point, it can then reactivate, becoming shingles. That is why a person who isn't immune can develop chicken pox if they are exposed to someone with shingles.

Of course, you can't catch shingles.

You can get shingles if you have been vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine, even if you have never had a natural chicken pox infection though. That's because the chicken pox vaccine is a live virus vaccine.

Your risk of getting shingles following the vaccine vs. having a natural infection is thought to be lower however, another benefit of getting vaccinated.

So, in addition to protecting kids against chicken pox, it appears that the chicken pox vaccine actually lowers their risk of later developing shingles.

What Is Causing The Shingles Epidemic?

While there has been a rise in cases of shingles, despite what you will read on most anti-vax websites, it is not because of the chicken pox vaccine (Varivax).

In fact, it has been shown that:

  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults began before we even started giving kids the chicken pox vaccine in the United States
  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults did not continue to increase after we started giving kids the chicken pox vaccine in the United States
  • the trend in rising shingles cases in adults also exists in other countries that do not routinely give kids the chicken pox vaccine

So whatever the reason for the trend in rising shingles cases in adults, it isn't because more kids are protected from chicken pox now.

What To Know About Shingles and the Chicken Pox Vaccine

The chicken pox vaccine is not causing a surge or epidemic of shingles. In fact, in addition to reducing your children's risk of developing chicken pox, it can likely reduce their risk of developing shingles later in life.

 

Sources:

 

Hales, Craig M. Examination of Links Between Herpes Zoster Incidence and Childhood Varicella Vaccination. Ann Intern Med. 2013;159(11):739-745.

Leung J. Herpes zoster incidence among insured persons in the United States, 1993-2006: evaluation of impact of varicella vaccination. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2011;52(3):332-340.

Russell ML. Shingles in Alberta: before and after publicly funded varicella vaccination. Vaccine. Volume 32, Issue 47, 29 October 2014, Pages 6319–6324.

Weinmann S. Incidence and clinical characteristics of herpes zoster among children in the varicella vaccine era, 2005–2009. Journal of Infection Diseases. 2013;208(11):1859-68.

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