The shingles vaccine is recommended for people over the age of 50. It is not used to treat an active case of shingles but can be given to help prevent shingles. The vaccine, which is given as a single injection, is typically effective for at least four years. While most people tolerate the vaccine well, potential side effects include headaches and injection site reactions.
What Is the Shingles Vaccine?
The shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) is a single-dose vaccine used to prevent shingles in people 50 years old and older. It is not used to treat an active case of shingles.
Previously, this vaccine was approved only for individuals age 60 and older. However, it is now approved for people as young as 50 years of age.
(Click What Is the Shingles Vaccine Used For? for more information on shingles vaccine uses, including possible off-label uses.)
Who Makes It?
The shingles vaccine is made by Merck & Co., Inc.
How Does It Work?
Shingles is caused by a virus, the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). The initial infection of varicella-zoster virus causes a case of chickenpox. After the case of chickenpox, the virus never goes away. It remains inactive in certain nerve cells of the body, waiting to become active again (which usually occurs as people age and their immune systems are less able to suppress the virus). The shingles vaccine is a live (but weakened) version of the varicella-zoster virus. The shingles vaccine causes the body to produce an immune system response to the virus, which helps prevent shingles.