Merck Manual

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Shingles Vaccine

(Herpes Zoster Vaccine)


Margot L. Savoy

, MD, MPH, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed/Revised Jul 2023

The herpes zoster virus that causes shingles Shingles Shingles is a painful skin rash caused by a viral infection that results from reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox. What causes the virus to reactive... read more Shingles is the same virus that causes chickenpox Chickenpox Chickenpox is a highly contagious viral infection with the varicella-zoster virus that causes a characteristic itchy rash, consisting of small, raised, blistered, or crusted spots. Chickenpox... read more Chickenpox . After chickenpox resolves, the virus remains in the body. It can be reactivated years later and cause shingles, which is a painful rash, usually on only one part of the body. The rash resolves after several weeks, but postherpetic neuralgia, which causes severe chronic pain, can last for months or years. Herpes zoster can also cause other problems due to malfunction of the nervous system (such as problems with vision, hearing, or balance).

Shingles vaccination is the only way to protect against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, the most common complication from shingles.

The shingles vaccine contains only noninfective pieces of the virus (called a recombinant vaccine). There is no live virus in this vaccine. There is an older shingle vaccine that contains live but weakened virus (called a live-attenuated vaccine). It is no longer available for use in the United States. The newer vaccine is preferred over the older vaccine because it provides better and longer-lasting protection.

For more information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Shingles Vaccination and the Recombinant shingles vaccine information statement.

Administration of Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine is given in two doses, injected into a muscle. The doses are given 2 to 6 months apart.

The shingles vaccine is recommended for people aged 50 and over whether or not they have ever had shingles or have been given the older live-attenuated vaccine. This vaccine is also recommended for people aged 19 and older who have or will have a weakened immune system because of a disease or treatment for a disease.

Certain conditions may affect whether and when people are vaccinated (see also CDC: Who Should NOT Get Vaccinated With These Vaccines?). If people have a temporary illness, doctors usually wait to give the vaccine until the illness resolves.

Side Effects of Shingles Vaccine

The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are pain, soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site and headache, fatigue, muscle pain, shivering, fever, and digestive upset.

More Information

The following English-language resources may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of these resources.

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