Ask the doctors
Q. I've had the Zostavax vaccine to prevent shingles, but now I've heard there is a new vaccine that is supposed to be more effective. Should I get the new vaccine? And can I get it, since I already had the Zostavax shot?
A. You heard correctly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that healthy adults over age 50 get two doses of a new vaccine called Shingrix, which was approved by the FDA in October 2017. Doses are given two to six months apart. Shingrix is said to be more than 90% effective against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia — a painful nerve condition that can arise as a shingles complication.
This new vaccine is much more effective than Zostavax, which had been used in the past. It reduced the risk of shingles by only 51%. Research has also shown that Zostavax loses its ability to prevent shingles after five years. Zostavax is no longer available in the United States.
If you've ever had chickenpox, you are at risk for shingles, which is essentially a re-emergence of the virus that caused your chickenpox. The CDC says you should get vaccinated with Shingrix even if you aren't sure you've had chickenpox and if you've already had shingles. Although it's uncommon, you can get shingles more than once. In addition, you should get the Shingrix vaccine even if you already got the Zostavax vaccine.
While some people can have a very sore arm, fatigue and low-grade fever after the vaccine, most people who get Shingrix experience only mild side effects.
— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch
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