Shingles vaccine

Also called zoster vaccine or Zostavax

Easy-to-read medicine information about shingles vaccine – what it is, when it is given and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Vaccines
  • Protects against herpes zoster (shingles)
  • Zostavax®

What is the shingles vaccine?

Shingles vaccine protects against herpes zoster (shingles) infection. Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash that usually appears around your chest and back, but can also affect your legs or face. It appears on only one side of your body.

  • Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus (the same virus responsible for chickenpox).
  • It is more common in older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
  • Vaccination with the shingles vaccine can reduce your risk of shingles and the long-term pain it can cause.

Read more about shingles.

Why is immunisation against shingles recommended?

About one-third of people will develop shingles in their lifetime; 50% of people will develop shingles by the time they reach age 85 years. While shingles can get better on its own, the most common complication occurring in up to 3 in every 10 people with shingles is pain that goes on after the shingles rash has cleared. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia (also called nerve pain).

  • Post-herpetic neuralgia is usually described as a burning or shooting pain, with itch, numbness, tingling or sensitivity to touch or temperature.
  • The risk and severity of both shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia increases with age.
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia can go on for months to years.

Having the shingles vaccine can help prevent shingles and reduce the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia. Read more about post-herpetic neuralgia

How effective is the shingles vaccine?

Having the shingles vaccine reduces your risk of getting shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia, but the effect of the vaccine differs by age and time since vaccination. 

Age at which you get vaccinated
The shingles vaccine is most effective at preventing shingles in people aged 50–59 years (around 7 in 10 people who are vaccinated are protected) and becomes less effective as you get older. Around 5 in 10 people aged 65–69 years and around 4 in 10 people aged 80 years or older. 

Times since vaccination
Protection from the shingles vaccine wears off over time. The highest protection against shingles is during the first year after receiving the vaccine. By 6 years after being vaccinated, protection is very low. 

Booster doses
There is no information about whether a booster dose of the shingles vaccine provides any benefit. Although there are no recommendations, adults who have previously received the shingles vaccine can receive a second dose after at least 1 year. There are no safety concerns about receiving a second dose.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

In New Zealand, one dose of the shingles vaccine is funded for people aged 65 years, or for people aged between 66 and 80 years inclusive from 1 April 2018 and 31 December 2020. 

Some people aged under 65 years who are at increased risk of shingles may also want to think about having the vaccination, although it is not funded for this group. 

You may be at increased risk of shingles if you have:
  • a weakened immune system
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • asthma
  • chronic kidney disease
  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • type 1 and 2 diabetes

The effectiveness of the vaccine does decrease over time so early vaccination may mean that protection is lost in older age when there is a higher risk of developing shingles and its complications. The shingles vaccine is currently approved for adults aged 50 years and older but is still effective and possible to give to younger adults following informed consent. Note that it is only funded for adults aged 65–80, so if you would like to have it at a younger or older age, you may need to pay. Ask your doctor or nurse if you are unsure. 

Who should NOT get the shingles vaccine?

The shingle vaccine is a live vaccine. This means that it can cause an infection in people with very weakened immune systems and should not be used in people with leukaemia, lymphoma, other conditions affecting your bone marrow, tuberculosis (TB) or in people having immunosuppressive therapy such as chemotherapy. It should also not be given to children and pregnant women.

What if I have had shingles recently?

If you have had shingles recently, your immunity has been boosted and this reduces the chances of getting shingles again in the short term. Therefore, if you have recently had shingles, it is recommended that you wait at least 1 year before getting the shingles vaccine.

How is the shingles vaccine given?

The shingles vaccine is given as a subcutaneous injection (injected under your skin). It is given as one dose. 

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, vaccines can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Headache
  • Feeling unwell, tired or weak
  • Fever
  • These are quite common for the first 1 or 2 days after receiving the injection.
  • It usually settles within a few days.
  • Rest and drink plenty of fluids.
  • The routine use of paracetamol is not recommended following vaccinations, but may be used for relief of severe discomfort.  
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.

Read more: After your immunisation 

  • Pain and redness at the injection site
  • This is quite common after having the vaccination.
  • It usually starts a few hours after getting the injection and settles within a few days.
  • Place a cold, wet cloth, or ice pack where the injection was given. Leave it on for a short time. 
  • Do not rub the injection site.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.

Read more: After your immunisation

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

Learn more

The following links provide further information on shingles vaccine:


  1. Zostavax vaccine: now fully subsidised BPAC, NZ, 2018
  2. Zostavax vaacine for shingles - do not use in immunocompromised patients Medsafe NZ, 2017
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 26 Mar 2018