When to Get Shingles Vaccine? A Shingles Vaccine Guide

The shingles virus is an unsightly belt-like rash accompanied by pain, which is a form of chickenpox that usually comes later in life. The visible symptoms last 2-4 weeks, as do other symptoms like fatigue, headaches, fever, chills, body aches and discomfort. Of those who develop shingles, 1 in 5 suffer a serious complication known as post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), which means the pain lingers long after the blistering sores have gone. People over the age of 60 who have weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of developing shingles. The shingles vaccine is the best way to reduce one's risk.

The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, was licensed in 2006 and has been tested on more than 20,000 Americans so far. One dose administered by injection into the upper arm has been shown to reduce the risk of shingles by 50% and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) by 67%. The few people who developed shingles, regardless of the vaccine, generally suffered less pain and required less medication treatment than those who were not vaccinated. The vaccine is said to be extremely safe. The only serious risk associated with the vaccine is for people who are allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin. One in three patients reported redness, soreness or swelling at the injection site. One in seventy patients said they got a headache following their vaccination. People who develop a reaction to the vaccine do so within minutes or an hour of injection, and usually report a sudden fever, difficulty breathing, wheezing, weakness, hives, a quickened heartbeat, dizziness, paleness and throat swelling. If any of these serious symptoms occur, a doctor should be called immediately.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends one dose of the shingles vaccine every 6 years for any adult age 60+, even if they've had the chickenpox virus before. It is a fallacy that having the virus once bolsters immunity, as people often relapse after years of dormancy. "People who have had chicken pox have at least a one in ten chance of developing shingles. The risk increases with age," Dr. Jon Hallberg tells Minnesota Public Radio. "As we get older, our immune system is less capable of fending off things, or in the case of the varicella zoster virus, of keeping it in check," he explains. Individuals who have the shingles virus should at least wait until the rash has cleared to be vaccinated. The vaccine is most effective when administered to people ages 60-69, but shows promise for those who are older as well.  

Some patients wonder how they will pay for the shingles vaccine. All Medicare Part D plans cover the herpes zoster vaccine, whereas Medicare Part B plans do not. Private insurance carriers and Medicaid may or may not cover the vaccine, depending on your plan. There have been many reports of insurance companies refusing to cover the $200 vaccine. Dr. Jon Hallberg explains on Minnesota Public Radio: "I think insurance plans are simply thinking that, 'Look, if it's only 60 percent effective, this may not be worth us covering for all of our patients over the age of 60.'"

Related topics about shingles vaccine
Shingles Disease
At its dark ugly heart, the shingles disease is a viral infection that outwardly displays itself as a painful and unsightly rash. Although shingles can appear anywhere on the body, the blisters most commonly form a band wrapping from the middle of the back around one side to the chest's center. Doctors say that the varicella-zoster virus sometimes lies dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain, later reactivating as the extremely painful shingles.

Shingles Virus
"Shingles is actually the reactivation of the chickenpox virus," Dr. Jennifer Ashton explains on the CBS Early Show. "So if you've had the chickenpox, you can get shingles and in fact, about a million Americans get it every year.