Generic NameBrand Name
herpes-zoster vaccineZostavax

Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral infection of the nerve roots that occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. The shingles vaccine (herpes-zoster vaccine) is given by injection into the layer of fat under your skin (subcutaneous).

How It Works

When you receive the shingles vaccine, your body reacts by producing antibodies to fight against the herpes zoster virus.

Why It Is Used

Herpes zoster vaccine can prevent shingles or reduce pain and other symptoms in people who get shingles. The vaccine is recommended for adults age 60 and over who have not received the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine.footnote 1 It is available to adults age 50 and older. They can get one dose, whether or not they've had shingles before.

Shingles vaccine is not recommended for:

  • People younger than 50 years of age.
  • Some people with impaired immune systems.
  • People who are taking high doses of corticosteroids by mouth. People who are taking low doses or taking the medications by inhalation (such as people with asthma) may be able to take the shingles vaccine.
  • People with severe short-term (acute) illnesses. For these people, shingles vaccination should be postponed until they feel better.
  • People who are allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin. The shingles vaccine contains small amounts of gelatin and neomycin.

How Well It Works

Herpes zoster vaccine prevents shingles in about 5 out of 10 of people who receive the vaccine. But the vaccine can reduce pain and other symptoms in people who get shingles after receiving the vaccine.

Side Effects

The shingles vaccine has few side effects. When they occur, side effects are usually seen more often in people age 60 to 69 years than in those over age 70.

Side effects of the shingles vaccine include pain, redness, swelling, and itching. About 50% of people have redness or soreness at the injection site. Headache and rash may also occur, but this is rare.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

The vaccine is less effective in preventing shingles the older a person gets. A person who receives the vaccine at 60 years of age is less likely to get shingles than someone who receives it at 80 years of age. But pain and other symptoms of shingles infection are often reduced in people who have received the vaccine.

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  1. National Advisory Committee on Immunization (2010). Statement on the recommended use of herpes zoster vaccine. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 36(ACS-1): 1–19. Also available online: http://origin.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/10vol36/acs-1/index-eng.php.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology

Current as ofNovember 20, 2015