Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: I've already had shingles. Should I still get the shingles vaccine?

Q. I had shingles in 2005 and haven't had a shingles shot. I haven't been able to find any studies that indicate whether a shot is feasible for people who have already had shingles. What do you recommend?

A. Herpes zoster, also known as shingles, results from reactivation of varicella-zoster virus (chickenpox virus) that has been quietly living within part of your nervous system. Shingles emerges as a painful eruption of vesicles on one side of your body. The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is approved for everyone 50 and older, and the CDC recommends it for everyone age 60 and older. The vaccine is safe for people who have had shingles, although we don't know how effective it is. It might help prevent another attack, and it won't hurt you, so I'd recommend getting it. What isn't clear yet is how long the vaccine protects us from getting shingles. Although there isn't much evidence of the vaccine's effectiveness in people under 60, if you're in your 50s, it's worth discussing with your doctor, especially since you've already had one bout of shingles. The vaccine isn't absolute insurance against getting shingles again, but it has been shown to reduce the extent of the disease and the amount of pain, which, as you probably know, can be quite severe. In most states, you can be vaccinated at a pharmacy or public health clinic. Medicare Part D plans cover the cost, although you may have to make a co-payment.

— Anne Fabiny, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

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