Shingles Vaccine Recommendations

I will soon be 60, and my doctor has advised that I get the shingles vaccine. I don’t know enough to make an informed decision on this. What is the latest recommendation?

Shingles is one of those dreadful conditions that you may not think too much about until you have to endure it. According to Phil Santangelo, PhD, a biomedical engineer working as a researcher and professor at Georgia Institute of Technology, about 90 percent of adults had chickenpox early in life. Once exposed, this virus (a first cousin of the herpes virus) retreats into a person’s nervous system and lies dormant. It can reactivate later in life, usually after age 50, and cause shingles. Shingles starts as an intensely painful rash, but it doesn’t stop there. It can lead to severe, long-lasting and potentially permanent nerve pain and, in some cases, increases stroke risk. People with weakened immune systems or those taking immune-suppressing medications for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus or those using chemotherapy drugs are at the greatest risk for developing the infection. According to Santangelo, your doctor’s suggestion to take the vaccine is wise. Zostavax, which the FDA approved more than a decade ago, prevents shingles in about half of those who receive the single injection. Santangelo suggests talking to your physician about a new vaccine that was FDA approved in 2017 and has been demonstrated to be a much more effective prevention against shingles five years post-injection. He reports that research has shown it to be particularly effective in older adults, who face the highest risk for shingles.

Want to learn more about shingles? Try your hand at our quiz, “The Pain of Shingles.”

Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses. He consults with a variety of experts to answer a selection of readers’ questions in each issue of Pain-Free Living.

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