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Top Ten Questions about the Shingles Vaccine

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Below are 10 of the most common questions people have about the shingles vaccine:

1. Who is at risk for shingles?

Everyone who has ever had chickenpox, even a mild case that may not have been diagnosed. This includes approximately 99 percent of Americans over age 40. Researchers estimate that 30 to 50 percent of the current population will experience shingles.

2. How safe is the vaccine?

This is the most attenuated of all currently licensed live attenuated virus vaccines. It is fully susceptible to antiviral drugs as a back-up treatment for complications.

3. How effective is the vaccine?

In clinical trials, it reduced the incidence of shingles by 51 percent and the burden of illness by 61 percent, as vaccinated patients who did experience shingles had milder cases.

4. Can I get better protection with more than one shot of the vaccine?

This possibility is still under investigation. See http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=zoster+vaccine.

5. How long has the vaccine been on the market?

Zostavax was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.

6. How is the shingles vaccine different from the chickenpox vaccine?

Both vaccines use the same live attenuated virus, but the shingles vaccine has a minimum potency at least 14 times as high as the chickenpox virus.

7. I had chickenpox, so I expect to have antibodies against the virus for life. Why should a vaccine help me?

Cell mediated immunity is also important for fighting the varicella zoster virus. While you do have antibodies for life, cell mediated immunity decreases over time. The risk of shingles increases with age, but it is rare to have a second episode of shingles. Thus researchers theorized that an episode of shingles boosts the immune response to the virus. The vaccine provides an attenuated virus that also boosts the immune response, but without causing shingles symptoms.

8. If my child gets a chickenpox vaccine, what are his/her chances for getting shingles later in life?

Researchers hope that universal childhood vaccination will eradicate shingles as well as chickenpox.

9. Who should get the shingles vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccination for everyone age 60 or older, except for those with compromised immune systems. See your doctor for an individualized recommendation.

10. Is is okay to get the shingles vaccine before age 60?

The clinical trials were performed on two age groups: 60 to 69, and 70 or older. While people under age 60 can get shingles, the vaccine has not been tested in this population. Ask your doctor.


1. Oxman MN, “Zoster vaccine: Current status and future prospects”, Clinical Infectious Diseases 2010; 51(2): 197-213.

2. More information online:

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

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EmpowHER Guest

Here's a site with good, comprehensive information about shingles, including causes, symptoms, treatment and those for whom the vaccine works http://www.best-mens-skin-care.com/shingles.html - and a page with a run down of who should get the new shingles vaccine - and who shouldn't. http://www.best-mens-skin-care.com/is-shingles-vaccine-effective-after-breakouts.html

February 24, 2011 - 2:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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