Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccine Safety
Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that develops on one side of the face or body. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox in the past can get shingles because VZV remains in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox. VZV can reactivate many years later, causing shingles.
Shingles is more common in people 60 years old or older, people who have medical conditions that weaken the immune system, or people who take medications that suppress the immune system. You can protect against shingles with safe, effective vaccination.
The shingles vaccine is very safe, and it is effective at preventing shingles. Vaccines, like any medicine, can have side effects. Most people who get shingles vaccine only have minor side effects from it.
Common Side Effects of Shingles Vaccine
- Sore arm from the shot
- Redness, swelling or itching from the shot
On very rare occasions, severe (anaphylactic) allergic reactions occur after vaccination.
Pregnant women, people with weak immune systems, and people allergic to any vaccine component should not get shingles vaccine. For more information, see Who Should Not Get Shingles Vaccine.
There is one shingles vaccine approved for use in the United States:
- Zostavax [PDF – 169 KB]: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this vaccine in 2006 to prevent shingles and complications caused by the disease. It is currently recommended for people age 60 years of age and older.
CDC and FDA continuously monitor the safety of vaccines after they are approved. If a problem is found with a vaccine, CDC and FDA will inform health officials, health care providers, and the public.
CDC uses three systems to monitor vaccine safety:
- The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS): an early warning system that helps CDC and FDA monitor problems following vaccination. Anyone can report possible vaccine side effects to VAERS.
- The Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD): a collaboration between CDC and nine health care organizations which allows ongoing monitoring and proactive searches of vaccine-related data.
- The Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment (CISA) Project: a partnership between CDC and several medical centers that conducts clinical research on vaccine-associated health risks.
- The shingles vaccine has been shown to be safe and well tolerated. The most commonly reported side effects after vaccination is headache, or redness, swelling, pain or tenderness where the shot was given. These symptoms are mild to moderate in intensity. In rare cases, people who got vaccinated experienced a blister-like rash; some were found to have been caused by the vaccine.
- A 2013 study showed that patients with a history of a previous shingles rash had the same side effects after shingles vaccination as those with no history of shingles.
- A 2012 study found a small risk for allergic reactions 1 to 7 days after vaccination; most allergic reactions (80%) were at the site of the shot.
- Shingles Vaccine Information Statement
- Shingles Vaccine: Who Should Not Get Vaccinated
- Fact Sheet: What You Need to Know About Shingles and the Shingles Vaccine [PDF – 652 KB]
- Shingles Vaccination: What You Need To Know
- Zostavax Questions and Answers from FDA
- CDC’s Shingles Disease Website
- Shingles: Clinical Overview
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Hales CM, Harpaz R, Ortega-Sanchez I, Bialek SR. Update on Recommendation for Use of Herpes Zoster Vaccine [PDF – 386 KB]. MMWR. 2014 Aug 22; 63(33):729-731.
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- Page last reviewed: October 27, 2015
- Page last updated: October 27, 2015
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