Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Getting a Shingles Shot?

I understand there is a new vaccine against shingles. Is it worth getting?

Answer (Published 12/18/2006)

A vaccine to prevent shingles was approved by the FDA in May 2006 for use in people age 60 and older. As you may know, shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus that is also responsible for chicken pox. The virus can lie dormant in the body for many years after a case of chicken pox and then reactivate for unknown reasons to stage a new attack. If you've had chicken pox, you have a 10 and 20 percent chance of someday developing shingles. The risk increases with age: of the one million cases that occur in the United States every year about half are in people over 60.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Stress & Anxiety - The link between mental and physical health is undeniable. A healthful lifestyle and diet and proper supplements can help improve your mood and mental outlook. Learn more, and get your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation today.

Shingles is no fun. It usually begins with an itch, a tingling sensation, or a stabbing pain, usually on the surface of the skin of the torso or the face. A few days later, a rash develops. It runs along the course of a nerve root on one side of the body and turns into small, fluid-filled blisters that then dry out and crust. At its peak, the outbreak can cause intense pain. Some people get over shingles quickly, but a severe attack can prolong its course over three to five weeks and leave some unlucky individuals with residual pain lasting months or even years after the lesions disappear; this condition is called postherpetic neuralgia.

The new vaccine, Zostavax, isn't perfect – it works about 50 percent of the time. More than 38,000 people over 60 who never had shingles participated in clinical trials of the vaccine. About half of them got the vaccine while the other half got a placebo shot. After three years, those who didn't get the shot developed about twice as many cases of shingles as those who received the vaccine. So the shingles shot can cut the risk in half, not eliminate it entirely (however, those people who developed shingles despite receiving the vaccine had less severe cases than did those who got the placebo). Although Zostavax prevented shingles only 51 percent of the time, it did prevent postherpetic neuralgia in 67 percent of the people studied. The vaccine seemed to be most effective in people 60-69 years old but also provided some protection for older groups.

Side effects were mostly redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the injection site and headache. The shot, which is available now, is a bit pricey: it costs about $150, and that's without the doctor's charge to administer it. If you're in a state that allows pharmacists to give injections, you may be able to save some money by getting your shot at the drug store.

Having had an unpleasant case of shingles this summer, I'm inclined to recommend the vaccine for those at risk, especially since the disease seems to be becoming more prevalent.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here