Shingles vaccine

Also called zoster vaccine or Zostavax

Easy-to-read medicine information about shingles vaccine – what it is, how to take it safely and possible side effects.

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

What is shingles vaccine?

Shingles vaccine protects against herpes zoster infection, which is commonly known as shingles. Shingles is a painful, itchy skin rash that usually appears on your chest, but can also affect your trunk, back, legs or face.

  • Shingles is caused by varicella-zoster virus (the same virus responsible for chickenpox).
  • It is more common in the elderly 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 therefore reduces the risk of 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. It becomes less effective as you get older and it is not as effective for the prevention of herpes zoster in people aged 80 years and older.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

In New Zealand from 1 April 2018, the shingles vaccine is funded for people who are 65 years old. People aged 66–80 years may also receive the vaccination for the next 2 years.

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 are at increased risk of shingles if you have one of the following conditions.

You may be at increased risk of shingles if you have:

  • 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.

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 the bone marrow, tuberculosis (TB), or in people undergoing 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 one 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 unwanted side effects, although not everyone gets them. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Headache
  • This will go away after a day or two
  • Pain and redness at the injection site
  • This is quite common and will ease in a few days   

Learn more

The following links provide further information on shingles vaccine:

References

  1. Zostavax vaccine: now fully subsidised BPAC 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