What you need to know about shingles and the shingles vaccine 

What is Shingles? 

Shingles, also known as zoster or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash, often with blisters, that is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone, even if you are healthy, who has had chickenpox can develop shingles because the virus remains in the nerve cells of the body after chickenpox goes away and can reappear many years later causing shingles. You can’t catch shingles from another person with shingles. However, a person who has never had chickenpox (or chickenpox vaccine) could get chickenpox from someone with shingles. 

The most common complication of shingles is severe pain where the rash was. This pain can be debilitating. There is no treatment or cure for this pain. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach. Shingles may also lead to serious complications involving the eye. Very rarely, shingles can also lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis), or death. 

How Common is Shingles?

  • There are more than 1 million cases of shingles each year in the United States.
  • One out of every three people 60 years old or older will get shingles.
  • One out of six people older than 60 years who get shingles will have severe pain. The pain can last for months or even years.
  • For people who experience severe pain, about one in five continue to feel pain long after the rash clears up, sometimes for months or years. This is the most common complication of shingles and is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
  • One in four people who get shingles will experience some type of complication. 

How can you protect yourself from shingles?

Adults 50 years old or older should talk to their healthcare professional about getting a two-dose series of the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix. This vaccine was licensed in 2017 and offers more protection from shingles than the previously recommended vaccine, Zostavax. In clinical trials, Shingrix reduced the risk of shingles and complications due to shingles by more than 90%. Because of this, it is preferable to receive Shingrix over Zostavax vaccine. However, in healthy adults 60 years old or older Zostavax may still be used when Shingrix is not an option.

Facts about the Shingles Vaccine

  • A two-dose series, separated by 2-6 months, of Shingrix is recommended for adults 50 years of age and older.
  • Persons who have already had shingles, who have a chronic medical condition, or who have been previously vaccinated with Zostavax, can still receive Shingrix. 
  • Clinical trials have shown that Shingrix offers excellent protection against shingles after a two-dose series: 
- For adults 50 to 69 years old, Shingrix was 97% effective in preventing shingles and 91% effective in preventing PHN.
- For adults 70 years and older, Shingrix was found to be 91% effective in preventing shingles and 89% effective in preventing PHN.

Is the Shingles Vaccine Safe?

The shingles vaccine is a safe way to protect your health. A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as an allergic reaction. However, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. No serious problems have been identified with the shingles vaccine. Vaccine side effects are usually mild and temporary. Some people experience soreness, redness, swelling, or itching in the arm where the vaccine was given. Others have mild reactions that last up to a few days, such as tiredness, muscle pain, headache, shivering, fever, stomach pain or nausea.

Who should not get the shingles vaccine? 

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have a weakened immune system, or have allergies to certain components of the vaccine you should not get the shingles vaccine. The shingles vaccine is safe for people taking most prescription medications but ask your healthcare professional if you have questions.

Where can i get the Shingles (Zoster) vaccine?

You may receive your Shingles vaccination at many locations, including your doctor’s office, health clinics, and pharmacies.

Don't Wait, Vaccinate!

Talk to your healthcare professional to make sure you are up-to-date with the vaccines recommended for you.  For more information on vaccines or to take an adult vaccine quiz to find out which vaccines you might need, go to