Shingles Vaccine

What You Need to Know


  • Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters. It is also called Herpes Zoster or just Zoster.

  • A shingles rash usually appears on one side of the face or body and lasts from 2 to 4 weeks. Its main symptom is pain, which can be quite severe. Other symptoms of shingles can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach. Very rarely, a shingles infection can lead to pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation (encephalitis), or death.

  • For about 1 person in 5, severe pain can continue even after the rash clears up. This is called post-herpetic neuralgia.

  • Shingles is caused by the Varicella Zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Only someone who has had a case of chickenpox or rarely, has gotten chickenpox vaccine, can get shingles. The virus stays in your body. It can reappear many years later to cause a case of shingles.

  • You cannot 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. This is not very common.

  • Shingles is far more common in people 50 and older than in younger people. It is also more common in people whose immune systems are weakened because of a disease such as cancer or drugs such as steroids or chemotherapy.

  • At least 1 million people get shingles per year in the United States.


  • A vaccine for shingles was licensed in 2006. In clinical trials, the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by 50%. It can also reduce the pain in people who still get shingles after being vaccinated.

  • A single dose of shingles vaccine is recommended for adults 60 years of age and older.


A person should not get shingles vaccine if he or she:

  • Has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of shingles vaccine. Tell your caregiver if you have any severe allergies.

  • Has a weakened immune system because of current:

  • AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system.

  • Treatment with drugs that affect the immune system, such as prolonged use of high-dose steroids.

  • Cancer treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy.

  • Cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia or lymphoma.

  • Is pregnant, or might be pregnant. Women should not become pregnant until at least 4 weeks after getting shingles vaccine.

Someone with a minor illness, such as a cold, may be vaccinated. Anyone with a moderate or severe acute illness should usually wait until he or she recovers before getting the vaccine. This includes anyone with a temperature of 101.3° F (38° C) or higher.


  • A vaccine, like any medicine, could possibly cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. However, the risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.

  • No serious problems have been identified with shingles vaccine.

Mild Problems

  • Redness, soreness, swelling, or itching at the site of the injection (about 1 person in 3).

  • Headache (about 1 person in 70).

Like all vaccines, shingles vaccine is being closely monitored for unusual or severe problems.


What should I look for?

Any unusual condition, such as a severe allergic reaction or a high fever. If a severe allergic reaction occurred, it would be within a few minutes to an hour after the shot. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, weakness, hoarseness or wheezing, a fast heartbeat, hives, dizziness, paleness, or swelling of the throat.

What should I do?

  • Call your caregiver, or get the person to a caregiver right away.

  • Tell the caregiver what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.

  • Ask the caregiver to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. Or, you can file this report through the VAERS web site at or by calling 1-800-822-7967.

VAERS does not provide medical advice.


  • Ask your caregiver. He or she can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.

  • Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Call 1-800-232-4636 (1-800-CDC-INFO).

  • Visit the CDC website at

CDC Shingles Vaccine VIS (10/6/09)