Shingles vaccine

Also called zoster vaccine or Zostavax

The shingles vaccine protects against herpes zoster virus (shingles infection). Find out about the vaccine and possible side effects. The shingles vaccine is also called Zostavax.

On this page, you can find the following information:

Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash that usually appears around your chest and back, but can also affect your legs or face. Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox). Read more about shingles.

What is the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine reduces your risk of getting the shingles infection and if you do get it, reduces the chance of developing complications (see below). 

Why is vaccination against shingles recommended?

While shingles can get better on its own, having the shingles vaccine can prevent you from getting shingles at all. If you do get shingles, vaccination can prevent you from getting the complications of shingles and prevent you from getting shingles again.

The most common complication from the shingles infection is pain after the infection has gone and 1 in 5 people experience it. The pain can carry on for months to years after the infection, and is described as burning, sharp and jabbing, or deep and aching. This is called postherpetic neuralgia (also called nerve pain). 

Other complications from shingles infection include glaucoma, vision loss, facial weakness and hearing loss.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the shingles vaccine is called Zostavax. One dose of Zostavax is recommended, and is available free for people aged 65, but is no longer free for people in the 66+ age group. 

People aged 50-64 years who are at increased risk of shingles may also want to think about having the vaccination. Ask your doctor or nurse if you are unsure. It is not free 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 (COPD)
  • asthma
  • chronic kidney disease
  • depression
  • sleep disorders
  • type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

As with any vaccine, the effectiveness decreases over time. This may mean that protection is lost in older age when there is a higher risk of developing shingles and having more serious complications. When you are vaccinated you are about 70% protected. After a year you are about 50% protected. By 7–8 years after vaccination, you are around 32% protected. Your doctor can help you decide when to have the shingles vaccine.

Booster doses
If you have had the shingles vaccine in the past and are worried about how effective it is likely to be now, speak to your doctor. There is no information about whether another dose (booster) 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 1 year. There are no safety concerns about receiving a second dose.

Who should NOT get the shingles vaccine?

The shingle vaccine is a live vaccine. This means that it contains weakened viruses that cannot cause infection but makes your body produce the antibodies it needs in case you are exposed to or get the infection later in life.

Live vaccines, like the shingles vaccine, 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. Check with your doctor if you are unsure if you are in this group. 

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 to shingles has been boosted and this reduces the chances of you getting shingles again. Therefore it is recommended that you wait at least 1 year before getting the shingles vaccine.

If I have shingles now, can I get vaccinated?

The shingles vaccine is used to prevent shingles and it will not help if you already have shingles. If you have 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 an intramuscular injection (injected into the muscle on your upper arm). It is given as 1 dose. 

Can the shingles vaccine be given at the same time as other vaccines?

The shingles vaccine can be given at the same time as the flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine and the tetanus vaccine. If given at the same time, you will receive the vaccines at separate places on your arms and with different syringes. 

COVID-19 vaccines
There must be at least a seven day gap between the shingles vaccine and any of the COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer, AstraZeneca or    Nuvaxovid). This is to ensure a good immune response to each vaccine in older adults. Read more about COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines.

Can I get the shingles vaccine if I am taking antiviral medicines?

If you are taking anti-viral medicines such as acylovir, they should be stopped for 24 hours prior to having the shingles vaccine and for 14 days after having the shingles vaccine. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor for more information.

What are the side effects of the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine has an excellent safety record and is generally well tolerated. 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.
  • They usually settle 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 these side effects bother you.
  • 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. 
  • Don't rub the injection site.
  • Tell your doctor if it is a problem.

Read more: After your immunisation

Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

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. Phone 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:

References

  1. Zoster (herpes zoster/shingles) Immunisation Handbook 2020, NZ
  2. Zostavax NZ Formulary
  3. Zoster (shingles) Ministry of Health
  4. Shingles IMAC, NZ  

Useful resources for healthcare professionals

Prevention of Herpes Zoster Research Review (log in required), NZ, 2022

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr Osman David Mansoor, Medical Officer of Health, Tairawhiti DHB Last reviewed: 10 Feb 2022