Shingles Vaccine - Zostavax

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Shingles is a painful rash caused by a reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Because serious ​complications can occur with shingles, including a debilitating condition called postherpetic neuralgia, a vaccine was developed.

While not 100 percent effective, the vaccine does significantly reduce the chance you will develop shingles, and the complications of shingles.

About the Vaccine

Shingles most commonly affects older adults and people with a weakened immune system. Therefore, researchers think that a weak immune system may help the virus to "re-activate" after being dormant. The shingles vaccine and the chicken pox (varicella) vaccine are both made of a strain of live, weakened varicella zoster virus. The shingles vaccine contains more of the virus than the varicella vaccine.

Shingles Vaccine - What the Research Shows

In May 2006, the FDA approved the use of a shingles vaccine, named Zostavax, for adults older than 60 years. This was because of a study completed in 2005. Patients were split randomly into equal groups to either receive the vaccine, or a placebo (no vaccine given). The results of this study showed that three years after vaccination:

  • Overall, shingles affected 2.5% of participants in both groups.
  • Immunization reduced the incidence of shingles by 51 percent (from 3.3% in the unvaccinated group to 1.6% of patients in the vaccinated group).
  • In those who did develop shingles, the duration of pain was reduced from a median of 24 days to 21 days.
  • The incidence of postherpetic neuralgia was reduced by 67%.

Who Should and Shouldn't Get the Shingles Vaccine

The vaccine is recommended for adults over 60 years of age.

It is not recommended for the following groups:

  • Pregnant women
  • People with a history of life-threatening allergy to gelatin or neomycin
  • People with leukemia, lymphoma, or other malignancies affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system
  • People with AIDS
  • People taking medications that suppress their immune system

The vaccine is not used to treat a current case of shingles or postherpetic neuralgia.


Finch, Roger, Dennis Maki, Allan Ronald. "Varicella-Zoster Virus Infections." Infectious Diseases, 2nd edition. Ed. Jonathan Cohen, et al. New York: Mosby, 2004. 125-9.

Gnann, John, and Richard Whitley. "Herpes Zoster." The New England Journal of Medicine 347(2002): 340-6.

Oxman, M.N., et al. "A Vaccine to Prevent Herpes Zoster and Postherpetic Neuralgia in Older Adults." The New England Journal of Medicine 352(2005): 2271-84.

Vazquez, Marietta, et al. "The Effectiveness of the Varicella Vaccine in Clinical Practice." The New England Journal of Medicine 344(2001): 955-60.

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