Vaccine to Prevent Shingles Underused by Older Adults

What if you could cut your risk by half of getting a painful condition that affects one million Americans annually? I’m talking about shingles – a painful, blistering skin rash caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Virtually everyone over the age of 40 has had chickenpox in childhood. After getting chickenpox, the virus becomes dormant in certain nerves in your body. Shingles happens when the virus reactivates in those nerves. No one knows why exactly the chickenpox virus becomes active later in life, but it’s estimated that up to 25% of the population gets shingles at some point in their lifetime, though it mostly affects older adults.

What’s the first sign of shingles? Pain, tingling, burning, or numbness of the skin is usually the first sign of shingles, followed by a rash a few days later.

Are there complications? About 30% of the time, complications can develop from shingles, including chronic, severe pain and the condition post-herpetic neuralgia that could continue for many days, months, or even years post-infection. Permanent nerve damage from shingles is also possible. Caught early enough, oral antiviral medications may help shorten the illness episode. For pain, over-the-counter pain relievers as well as prescription pain relievers are usually recommended.

Who’s at highest risk for shingles? While shingles can occur at any age, it’s more common in people over 50 years of age. A weak immune system as a result of illness or medications can also increase the risk of shingles. It’s possible that the virus that causes shingles can be transmitted if there’s direct contact with the shingles rash by someone who has not had chickenpox as a child or the chickenpox vaccine, but it’s more likely that the person develops chickenpox, not shingles.

How can shingles be prevented? Zostavax® is the vaccine introduced in 2006 to prevent shingles. The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends a single dose of the zoster vaccine for adults 60 years or older as part of their routine health care, although it can also be given to adults 50-59. Despite its availability, the shingles vaccine is vastly underused. In the two years after the vaccine became available, fewer than 10% percent of all eligible patients have received it.  Yet a recent study of the medical records of almost 200,000 people found that the vaccine is safe and well tolerated.

Where can I get the shingles vaccine? Walgreens immunization-trained pharmacists can administer a wide range of CDC-recommended immunizations and vaccines, including Zostavax®.

By Pharmacist Andy

  • Verna

    Cost is a factor with the shingles vaccine. Most insurances will not cover.

    • Pharmacist Andy

      Cost is a consideration. It is important to check with your health insurance company and ask about coverage. Most private insurance plans cover the shingles vaccine – called Zostavax – for people over 60 years of age. The company that makes the shingles vaccine has a web site that contains useful information about insurance coverage for the vaccine,

      Pharmacist Andy

  • Squeakie44


    • Pharmacist Andy

      I have seen first-hand just how painful and debilitating shingles can be and I sympathize with your experience. And you’re certainly not alone. Now, thankfully there’s a vaccine that can cut the risk of getting shingles in half.

  • Paul

    What are the side effects of the vaccine? Too many times not enough time elapses to determine this and people get worse than the disease they have already. I for one always pick the healthy approach to disease and for thirty years have not been disappointed. Many new products have been developed to enhance and accelerate the immune system; you just need to do your homework.

    • Pharmacist Andy

      The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the shot site, and headache. While it is good to be cautious about the safety of newer medicines, the shingles vaccine has already been tested in about 20,000 people and closely monitored among an additional 200,000. It has been proven to be safe and well tolerated.

  • Hartp64

    what are the side effects of this med.

    • Pharmacist Andy

      The most common side effects to the shingles vaccine are redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the shot site, and headache. Some people who get the shingles vaccine can develop a rash near the vaccination site that should be covered until it disappears.

  • Jvathbel

    Do you still need the shingles shot if you’ve already had the shingles ?

    • Pharmacist Andy

      If you’ve already had shingles, getting the shingles vaccine may help prevent future occurrences. Check with your health professional on the timing for a shingles shot if you’ve already had the disease.

  • Dawn

    I take Acyclovir daily to prevent oral herpes. Will this supress shingles also?

    • Pharmacist Andy

      While acyclovir is used to treat the symptoms of shingles, I am not aware of whether or not chronic use of acyclovir suppresses shingles. Acyclovir is not FDA approved for shingles prophylaxis. The CDC recommends that persons taking chronic acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir should discontinue these medications at least 24 hours before receiving the shingles shot, if possible. Moreover, these medications should not be used for at least 14 days after vaccination, by which time the immunologic effect of the shingles shot should be established.

      • debbie

        I knew I was not suppose to take zovirax for a month before shot, but I didn’t know that the same goes for the cream. after my shot I ask the pharmisist how long before i could take zovorax for cold sores. she said 2 weeks. I said I guess i will have to use the cream. She said not to do that because it absorbs into your body. I have cold sores all……….the time. So used cream thinking that it was ok. I used cream the week before the shot. I even used it the day of the shot. I thought it was ok. What can it do, will the shot not work or what.

  • Gblizbeth54

    What is the cost of the shot? I know that most insurances do not cover it. I am on disability and cost could be a factor in my receiving the shot or not. If one is on several medications, are they more likly to have a reaction to the shot?

    • Pharmacist Andy

      The cost of a shingles shot varies and is considered a
      barrier to uptake of the vaccine. Medicare-D covers the cost of the vaccine and your insurance company may
      cover some or all of the cost – you should check your benefits. Some health departments offer the vaccine at
      a reduced cost. You can use the Store Locator link to seek more
      info locally about the cost of the shingles vaccine at Walgreens.

      Certain drugs do interact with the shingles vaccine. Check this handy drug interaction guide to
      see if your medicines interact with
      Zostavax®, the brand name for the shingles vaccine.

  • judy

    i do not have insur can not afford it am 63 can i get help to get the shot