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Shingles (Herpes Zoster) Vaccine Safety

Shingles Disease and How to Protect Against It

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.

Shingles Vaccine Side Effects

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
  • Headache

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.

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Available 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.

How CDC Monitors Shingles Vaccine Safety

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:

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A Closer Look at the Safety Data

  • 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.  

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More Resources

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Related Scientific Articles

Baxter R, Tran TN, Hansen J, Emery M, Fireman B, et al. Safety of Zostavax™-A cohort study in a managed care organization. Vaccine. 2012 Oct 19;30(47):6636-41.

Gagliardi AM, Gomes Silva BN, Torloni MR, Soares BG. Vaccines for preventing herpes zoster in older adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Oct 17;10:CD008858.

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.

Harpaz R, Ortega-Sanchez IR, Seward JF. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevention of herpes zoster: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR Recomm Rep. 2008 Jun 6;57(RR-5):1-30.

Mills R, Tyring SK, Levin MJ, Parrino J, Li X, et al. Safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of zoster vaccine in subjects with a history of herpes zoster. Vaccine. 2010 Jun 7;28(25):4204-9.

Morrison VA, Oxman MN, Levin MJ, Schmader KE, Betts RF, et al. Safety of Zoster Vaccine in Elderly Adults Following Documented Herpes Zoster. J Infect Dis. 2013;208(4):559-563.

Murray AV, Reisinger KS, Kerzner B, Stek JE, Sausser TA, et al. Safety and tolerability of zoster vaccine in adults ≥60 years old. Hum Vaccin. 2011 Nov;7(11):1130-6.

Schmader KE, Levin MJ, Gnann JW Jr, McNeil SA, Vesikari T, et al. Efficacy, safety, and tolerability of herpes zoster vaccine in persons aged 50-59 years. Clin Infect Dis. 2012 Apr;54(7):922-8.

Simberkoff MS, Arbeit RD, Johnson GR, Oxman MN, Boardman KD, et al. Safety of herpes zoster vaccine in the shingles prevention study: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2010 May 4;152(9):545-54.

Tseng HF, Liu A, Sy L, Marcy SM, Fireman B, et al. Safety of zoster vaccine in adults from a large managed-care cohort: A Vaccine Safety Datalink study. J Intern Med. 2012 May;271(5):510-20.

Vermeulen JN, Lange JM, Tyring SK, Peters PH, Nunez M, et al. Safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity after 1 and 2 doses of zoster vaccine in healthy adults ≥60 years of age. Vaccine. 2012 Jan 20;30(5):904-10.

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