Did you get the best shingles vaccine? Maybe not

One third of the population will experience shingles at some point in their life. Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a vaccine — Shingrix — that boasts a greater than 90% prevention rate for vaccinated individuals. The significant success rate of the vaccine exceeds the previous vaccine, Zostavax, and is now recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for eligible individuals 50 years and older.

What is shingles?

shingles vaccineIt is a viral infection, caused by the varicella-zoster virus, that results in a painful rash and lingering nerve pain (post-herpetic neuralgia) that can last for weeks to months. The shingles virus is the same as that causing the common childhood “chickenpox” illness. This virus can remain inactive in the body for years and become reactivated as an outbreak; for this reason, those who have experienced chickenpox in childhood may develop shingles later in life. However, the shingles virus can also be acquired through skin to skin contact with a shingles rash or breathing in the virus if around someone infected chickenpox, particularly if you have never been vaccinated for chickenpox. The infection appears more commonly in older adults or those with weakened immune systems.

What are some of the symptoms of shingles?

The signs normally appear in a small section (often a straight line) on only one side of the body. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Intense pain
  • Tingling/burning sensation
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Itching
  • Blistering rash that lasts 7-10 days (sometimes up to 4 weeks)

Some people may also experience:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea

Management includes antiviral therapy and supportive care to help relieve the associated discomfort.

What can I do to prevent shingles?

The CDC now recommends vaccination against the Herpes Zoster virus with the vaccine Shingrix (2017). The recommendation is for any adult 50 years old and older to receive 2 doses of the Shingrix vaccination with 2 to 6 months between doses. This vaccine takes the place of the former, Zostavax, due to increased effectiveness and immunity for a longer period of time.

The vaccine is also recommended for those who have previously received Zostavax or had a prior episode of shingles. Daniel Wegg, M.D., primary care physician and Medical Director of Reid Health Physician Associates, encourages patients to revaccinate with Shingrix because it is a more effective vaccine.

Zostavax decreases in efficacy 15-25% after one year while Shingrix maintains an 85% efficacy for four years. Furthermore, the vaccine is approved in younger patients, as young as 50 years old, due to the ability to provide protection for a longer period of time than Zostavax. Some suppressed immune conditions may not be recommended to receive vaccination; however, Shingrix is not a weakened form of the virus and thus is safe for some immunosuppressed conditions. Shingrix may be associated with side effects such as myalgia’s or pain at the injection site, but these resolve within a few days. Dr. Wegg reiterates, “I think the bottom line is you get a lot more protection for a little more discomfort. Well worth it even if you have already had the [Zostavax] vaccine. I recommend it to all my high risk patients and plan on getting it myself.”

You can visit the CDC website for further reading on both shingles and the Shingrix vaccine. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html

Reach out to your primary care doctor if you have any questions or would like to discuss Shingrix further.

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