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Shingles: Should I Get a Vaccine to Prevent Shingles?

You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Shingles: Should I Get a Vaccine to Prevent Shingles?

Get the facts

Your options

  • Get the shingles vaccine.
  • Don't get the shingles vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Shingles can be very painful, especially for people older than 60, in whom it is more common.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine for adults ages 50 and older.
  • The vaccine greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. If you get shingles anyway, you are less likely to have the long-term pain that can occur after shingles than if you hadn't had the vaccine.
  • If you've already had shingles, you are not likely to get it again. But some people do.
FAQs

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection that occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, but it is most common in older adults.

Shingles usually causes a rash that can be very painful. The rash is usually on your back or chest and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. For some people, the severe pain continues long after the rash clears up.

Shingles can be very hard on older people. The pain can affect their quality of life. For some, the pain lasts for a year or longer.

What are your chances of getting shingles?

Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles.

Experts say that out of 100 people, about 30 will get shingles sometime in their lives. footnote 1 And the risk is higher for people age 50 and older. Older people are also more likely to have severe pain with shingles.

Most people who get shingles will not get it again. But some people get shingles more than once.

How well does the vaccine work?

The vaccine greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. Research shows that: footnote 2

  • The vaccine can lower your chances of getting shingles.
  • If you get the vaccine and still get shingles, you are likely to have much less pain and for a much shorter time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine for adults ages 50 and older.

What are the risks and side effects of the shingles vaccine?

Side effects include:

  • Redness, swelling, or soreness at the spot where the needle went in.
  • A headache.
  • A high fever or serious allergic reaction (but this is rare).

Getting the vaccine has some risks. For example:

  • You might get shingles anyway. But it probably won't be as painful or last as long.
  • You may need another vaccine later in life.

You shouldn't get the vaccine if:

  • You are ill with more than a mild cold. This includes having a fever of 101.3°F (38.5°C) or higher.

Some people worry about the preservatives used in some vaccines. The shingles vaccine does not contain any preservatives.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get a shingles vaccine?

  • You are age 50 or older.
  • You have had shingles before.
  • You have a chronic condition, such as chronic kidney failure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or COPD.
  • You live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
  • The vaccine can lower your chances of getting shingles.
  • If you get the vaccine and still get shingles, you are likely to have less pain for a shorter time. footnote 2

Compare your options

Compare

What is usually involved?









What are the benefits?









What are the risks and side effects?









Get a shingles vaccine Get a shingles vaccine
  • A needle and syringe will be used to give you the vaccine, probably in your arm. Depending on the vaccine used, you may need more than one dose.
  • Your chances of getting shingles will be much lower.
  • Even if you get shingles, it's likely to be much less painful and not last as long.
  • The vaccine might make your arm red and sore where the needle went in.
  • You might get shingles anyway.
  • You may need another vaccine later in life.
  • You might have a serious reaction to the vaccine, but this is rare.
Don't get a shingles vaccine Don't get a shingles vaccine
  • You do nothing and accept the fact that your risk of getting shingles is higher.
  • You avoid the possible side effects of the vaccine.
  • You have a higher chance of getting shingles, which can be very painful and last a long time.

Personal stories about considering a shingles vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

I talked to my doctor about the shingles vaccine and I think I'm going to get it. My wife had shingles 2 years ago, and she was really in a lot of pain. If I can avoid that by getting a vaccine, it will really be worth it to me.

Abel, 65

I'm not going to get a vaccine, at least not right now. I don't like to take medicines of any kind if I don't have to.

Hattie, 50

What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get a shingles vaccine

Reasons not to get a vaccine

I want to lower my chances of getting shingles.

I would rather take my chances without getting a vaccine.

More important
Equally important
More important

I'm afraid of the pain that shingles can cause.

I'm not afraid of shingles pain.

More important
Equally important
More important

Getting shots doesn't bother me.

I don't like getting shots.

More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

More important
Equally important
More important

Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting the shingles vaccine

NOT getting the vaccine

Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1, The shingles vaccine works well to prevent shingles.
2, If I get the vaccine, I could still get shingles.
3, Experts recommend the shingles vaccine.

Decide what's next

1,Do you understand the options available to you?
2,Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3,Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

Your Summary

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.

Your decision 

Next steps

Which way you're leaning

How sure you are

Your comments

Your knowledge of the facts 

Key concepts that you understood

Key concepts that may need review

Getting ready to act 

Patient choices

Credits and References

Credits
Author Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html. Accessed October 22, 2018.
  2. Dooling KL, et al. (2018). Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for use of herpes zoster vaccines. MMWR, 67(3): 103–108. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6703a5. Accessed February 14, 2018.
You may want to have a say in this decision, or you may simply want to follow your doctor's recommendation. Either way, this information will help you understand what your choices are so that you can talk to your doctor about them.

Shingles: Should I Get a Vaccine to Prevent Shingles?

Here's a record of your answers. You can use it to talk with your doctor or loved ones about your decision.
  1. Get the facts
  2. Compare your options
  3. What matters most to you?
  4. Where are you leaning now?
  5. What else do you need to make your decision?

1. Get the Facts

Your options

  • Get the shingles vaccine.
  • Don't get the shingles vaccine.

Key points to remember

  • Shingles can be very painful, especially for people older than 60, in whom it is more common.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine for adults ages 50 and older.
  • The vaccine greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. If you get shingles anyway, you are less likely to have the long-term pain that can occur after shingles than if you hadn't had the vaccine.
  • If you've already had shingles, you are not likely to get it again. But some people do.
FAQs

What is shingles?

Shingles is an infection that occurs when the virus that causes chickenpox starts up again in your body. Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, but it is most common in older adults.

Shingles usually causes a rash that can be very painful. The rash is usually on your back or chest and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. For some people, the severe pain continues long after the rash clears up.

Shingles can be very hard on older people. The pain can affect their quality of life. For some, the pain lasts for a year or longer.

What are your chances of getting shingles?

Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles.

Experts say that out of 100 people, about 30 will get shingles sometime in their lives. 1 And the risk is higher for people age 50 and older. Older people are also more likely to have severe pain with shingles.

Most people who get shingles will not get it again. But some people get shingles more than once.

How well does the vaccine work?

The vaccine greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles. Research shows that: 2

  • The vaccine can lower your chances of getting shingles.
  • If you get the vaccine and still get shingles, you are likely to have much less pain and for a much shorter time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the shingles vaccine for adults ages 50 and older.

What are the risks and side effects of the shingles vaccine?

Side effects include:

  • Redness, swelling, or soreness at the spot where the needle went in.
  • A headache.
  • A high fever or serious allergic reaction (but this is rare).

Getting the vaccine has some risks. For example:

  • You might get shingles anyway. But it probably won't be as painful or last as long.
  • You may need another vaccine later in life.

You shouldn't get the vaccine if:

  • You are ill with more than a mild cold. This includes having a fever of 101.3 F (38.5 C) or higher.

Some people worry about the preservatives used in some vaccines. The shingles vaccine does not contain any preservatives.

Why might your doctor recommend that you get a shingles vaccine?

  • You are age 50 or older.
  • You have had shingles before.
  • You have a chronic condition, such as chronic kidney failure, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or COPD.
  • You live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
  • The vaccine can lower your chances of getting shingles.
  • If you get the vaccine and still get shingles, you are likely to have less pain for a shorter time. 2

2. Compare your options

  Get a shingles vaccine Don't get a shingles vaccine
What is usually involved?
  • A needle and syringe will be used to give you the vaccine, probably in your arm. Depending on the vaccine used, you may need more than one dose.
  • You do nothing and accept the fact that your risk of getting shingles is higher.
What are the benefits?
  • Your chances of getting shingles will be much lower.
  • Even if you get shingles, it's likely to be much less painful and not last as long.
  • You avoid the possible side effects of the vaccine.
What are the risks and side effects?
  • The vaccine might make your arm red and sore where the needle went in.
  • You might get shingles anyway.
  • You may need another vaccine later in life.
  • You might have a serious reaction to the vaccine, but this is rare.
  • You have a higher chance of getting shingles, which can be very painful and last a long time.

Personal stories

Personal stories about considering a shingles vaccine

These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.

"I talked to my doctor about the shingles vaccine and I think I'm going to get it. My wife had shingles 2 years ago, and she was really in a lot of pain. If I can avoid that by getting a vaccine, it will really be worth it to me."

— Abel, 65

"I'm not going to get a vaccine, at least not right now. I don't like to take medicines of any kind if I don't have to."

— Hattie, 50

"I'm definitely getting the vaccine, even though I've already had shingles. I know it's rare to get shingles a second time, but I do not want to go through that again."

— Romana, 69

3. What matters most to you?

Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.

Reasons to get a shingles vaccine

Reasons not to get a vaccine

I want to lower my chances of getting shingles.

I would rather take my chances without getting a vaccine.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

I'm afraid of the pain that shingles can cause.

I'm not afraid of shingles pain.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

Getting shots doesn't bother me.

I don't like getting shots.

             
More important
Equally important
More important

My other important reasons:

My other important reasons:

   
             
More important
Equally important
More important

4. Where are you leaning now?

Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.

Getting the shingles vaccine

NOT getting the vaccine

             
Leaning toward
Undecided
Leaning toward

5. What else do you need to make your decision?

Check the facts

1. The shingles vaccine works well to prevent shingles.

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
That's right. The vaccine greatly lowers your chances of getting shingles.

2. If I get the vaccine, I could still get shingles.

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. But even if you do get shingles, your symptoms are likely to be much milder.

3. Experts recommend the shingles vaccine.

  • Yes
  • No
  • I'm not sure
You're right. The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine.

Decide what's next

1. Do you understand the options available to you?

2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?

3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?

Certainty

1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?

         
Not sure at all
Somewhat sure
Very sure

2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.

  • I'm ready to take action.
  • I want to discuss the options with others.
  • I want to learn more about my options.
 
Credits
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Heather Quinn MD - Family Medicine

References
Citations
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018). Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Available online: https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/overview.html. Accessed October 22, 2018.
  2. Dooling KL, et al. (2018). Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for use of herpes zoster vaccines. MMWR, 67(3): 103–108. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6703a5. Accessed February 14, 2018.

Note: The "printer friendly" document will not contain all the information available in the online document some Information (e.g. cross-references to other topics, definitions or medical illustrations) is only available in the online version.

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