Why Get Vaccinated Against Shingles?

Five reasons why Shingrix is recommended for adults aged 50-plus.

Immunizations aren’t just a requirement of childhood—at least not for those who want to stay healthy as an adult.

As the CDC states on its website, protection from some childhood vaccines doesn’t last forever.1 “You may also be at risk for vaccine-preventable disease due to your age, job, lifestyle, travel, or health conditions,” they points out.

In fact, the CDC maintains an Adult Immunization Schedule2 that includes the recombinant zoster vaccine (Shingrix), a highly effective 2-dose vaccine recommended for immunocompetent adults age 50 and older for the prevention of shingles (herpes zoster virus; HZV) and its complications. 

Statistically, 1 in 3 Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime,3 so the case for getting vaccinated is strong. 

Virtually all adults aged 50+ already have the varicella zoster virus (VZV) in their body, resulting from an earlier bout of chickenpox—after which the virus lay dormant in the nervous system for decades. As an individual’s immune system declines with age, VZV reactivates as shingles. In effect, shingles is an illness that’s just waiting to happen.

Shingles might be one of the most painful medical conditions there is. The itchy red rash and debilitating pain that are the hallmarks of the infection emerge first. Once they subside, serious complications can persist for months or even years, most notably postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and postherpetic itch (PHI). Shingles has also been identified as a risk factor for heart attack and stroke for individuals with no history of cardiac issues.

HZV can strike more than once. Immunocompromised people are at greatest risk for recurrent shingles. Other risk factors include age, gender, high stress levels, some immunosuppressive therapies, and certain diseases including cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Shingrix is the only shingles vaccine available in the United States. It has been proven to be highly effective in both clinical trials and in the real-world setting. It uses the body’s own immune system to help prevent shingles.

Since its FDA approval in late 2017, reports of serious adverse effects have been rare. Common adverse effects of the vaccine include tenderness, redness and swelling at the injection site; fatigue; muscle pain; headache; fever; and nausea. They typically subside within 48 hours and are considered minor compared with symptoms experienced by those who develop shingles.

Vaccination protects not only the recipient, but others as well. Although shingles cannot be passed to another person, VZV is readily transmissible. Any person without immunity to the virus who is exposed to it—including young, unvaccinated children—can develop chickenpox. Once the virus is in their body, they are also at risk of developing shingles at a later date. 

Shingrix is administered in 2 doses, 2 to 6 months apart. Eligible individuals can be vaccinated regardless of previous history of shingles or prior vaccination with Zostavax—which has been withdrawn from the market in the United States by the manufacturer.4 Shingrix is covered by many private health insurance plans, the Affordable Care Act, and Medicare Part D.

In late 2021, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously recommended Shingrix for immunocompromised adults 19 years and older.5 The recommendation is currently being reviewed for approval by the director of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.

References

1. Recommended vaccines for adults. CDC. Reviewed November 21, 2019. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/adults/rec-vac/

2. Adult immunization schedule. CDC. Reviewed February 12, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/adult.html

3. Shingles (herpes zoster). CDC. Reviewed October 5, 2020. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/index.html 

4. For healthcare professionals. CDC. Reviewed October 5, 2020. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/hcp/index.html

5. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices votes unanimously to recommend Shingrix for immunocompromised adults aged 19 and up. News release. GSK. October 20, 2021. Accessed January 24, 2022. https://www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/votes-unanimously-to-recommend-shingrix-for-immunocompromised-adults-aged-19-and-up/#