Shingles is painful, energy-draining and can strike without warning if you’ve ever had the chickenpox. After you’ve had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus (the virus that causes chicken pox) takes a little nap in the nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain. If it “wakes up,” it reactivates as shingles, a painful rash with blisters. You may already know that the only way to prevent shingles is with the shingles vaccine. But did you know there’s a new vaccine on the market that, according to research, offers stronger, longer-lasting protection than the previous one?
The New Preferred Vaccine
Shingrix is the new kid on the block when it comes to shingles vaccines. This past October the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it’s the agency’s preferred vaccine choice, replacing the long-used Zostavax vaccine.
There are several pros to the Shingrix vaccine over Zostavax, namely:
- It has proven to be more effective in preventing shingles.
- Shingrix can be given to people 50 and over, while most physicians don’t recommend the Zostavax vaccine be given to people until age 60, meaning you get protection 10 years sooner with Shingrix.
- Shingrix contains an immune-response boosting adjuvant, which, in most cases, boosts the potency, quality, and longevity of the immune response to the shingles virus. Zostavax does not contain an adjuvant.
Other differences between the vaccines are:
- Shingrix is not a live vaccine while Zostavax is. Although there typically isn’t any danger associated with live vaccines, patients who are immunocompromised might not be able to take them.
- Shingrix is given in the muscle and Zostavax is a subcutaneous injection.
- Zostavax is a single-dose vaccine and Shingrix is a two-dose series spaced two to six months apart.
Shingrix showed to be 97 percent effective in preventing shingles in patients, 50 to 69 years old, and 91 percent effective in patients 70 years and older. Research has proven that side effects of the vaccine are no different than other vaccines. Mild soreness and redness at the injection site is the most common complaint.
Who Should Get It?
The CDC recommends that patients who are 50 or older, have had shingles, received the Zostavax vaccine and have either definitely had chickenpox or aren’t sure whether or not they’ve had chickenpox get the Shingrix vaccine. Getting the vaccine even if you aren’t sure if you’ve had chickenpox is recommended because studies show that more than 99 percent of Americans older than 40 have had chickenpox, so it’s likely you have.
If you’ve had the Zostavax vaccine recently, wait at least eight weeks before getting the Shingrix vaccine.
Who Should Avoid the Vaccine?
Avoid the Shingrix vaccine if you:
- Currently have shingles
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Have a severe illness, including colds that cause temperatures of 101.3 or higher
- Have tested negative for immunity to the varicella zoster virus, in which case you should get the chickenpox vaccine instead
Dr. Melanie Mouzoon, is a Pediatric Hospitalist and Managing Physician for Immunization Practices and Travel Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold.