Harvard Health Letter

The shingles vaccine: Why hasn't it caught on?

The cost and other factors are to blame.

When the FDA approved Zostavax in the spring of 2006, it seemed like the shingles vaccine was going to make a big splash. The large clinical trial that the agency based its approval on showed that the vaccine halved the risk of getting shingles. Even more impressive, it cut by two-thirds the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia, the aftermath of shingles that develops in about one in every three cases in people age 60 and over. Shingles can be very uncomfortable. In addition to the bad rash, a case may involve severe pain, fever, an upset stomach, or headaches. But the pain from postherpetic neuralgia can make life miserable for months, even years.

You'd think that any vaccine that could spare people from this would be welcomed with open arms — and rolled-up sleeves. But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Doctors and health plans haven't pushed it. Some patients have had a hard time getting it. There's some confusion about whether people who have already had shingles should receive it. And for a vaccine, it's expensive.

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