Q&A: The new shingles vaccine

Amanda Tobias, PharmD, on what you should know

Q: What is shingles?

If you know anyone who’s had it, you know that you don’t want to get this painful, blistering skin rash. The rash, which typically shows up in a strip (running along a nerve) on one side of the face or body, can be intensely painful. It usually lasts two to four weeks, but about 20 percent of people have severe, burning nerve pain long after the rash is gone.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox (varicella zoster). Once you’ve had chickenpox, the virus stays dormant in your body and can resurface decades later to cause shingles.

Q: How effective is the new vaccine — Shingrix — at preventing shingles?

Shingrix, approved by the FDA in 2017, is much more effective than the older vaccine, Zostavax. In studies, Shingrix was 97 percent effective at preventing shingles in people aged 50 to 69, and 91 percent effective in people 70 and older. Zostavax, on the other hand, was only 38 to 51 percent effective, depending on age.

Q: Who should get Shingrix? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Shingrix for adults 50 and older.

Q: If I had the old vaccine, do I need the new one? 

Yes. Since Shingrix is so much more effective than Zostavax, it is now the preferred vaccine. Just make sure it’s been at least eight weeks since you got Zostavax before getting Shingrix.

Q: What if I’ve already had shingles? Should I still get vaccinated?

Yes. The Shingrix vaccine reduces your chances of getting it again.

Q: I don’t think I ever had chickenpox. Which vaccine should I get?

The CDC recommends Shingrix whether or not you remember hav­ing chickenpox. That’s because more than 99 percent of Americans have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember it. However, if you have tested negative for immunity to the chickenpox virus, then the chicken­pox vaccine is recommended instead.

Q: What are the downsides of the Shingrix vaccine?

Shingrix is given in two doses, two to six months apart. As with any vacci­nation, you might feel some soreness for a few days afterward, but more serious side effects are rare.

Q: What’s the downside of not getting vaccinated?

About one in three people in the U.S. will get shingles, and as many as a third of them will have serious com­plications. These risks are far worse than the risks of the shots.

Q: Where can I get Shingrix?

We recommend going to your local pharmacy. Insurers are still working out coverage for this new vaccine, and your pharmacy can quickly check your coverage for you.

Pharmacist Amanda Tobias works in our Beaverton and South offices.