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Do I need a shingles vaccine booster?

November 01, 2017

Ask the doctors

 Image: © scyther5/Thinkstock

Q. I've read that the Zostavax vaccine is effective for about five years. Does that mean I will need a booster shot?

A. Zostavax is a vaccine to protect against shingles, a disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus can linger in your body and re-emerge, typically in later adulthood, as shingles, a painful body rash. Shingles also can lead to numerous complications, including a painful and lasting nerve condition called postherpetic neuralgia. Because one in every three adults over age 60 will get shingles, experts recommend getting vaccinated when you are 60 or older, which can reduce your risk of shingles by 51% and postherpetic neuralgia by 67%. The shingles vaccine does become less protective over time, typically within the first five years. A 2015 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases showed that the vaccine doesn't offer any protection at all after eight years. Even so, a booster has not been approved yet, and the vaccine is still given in a single, one-time shot. While the FDA has approved Zostavax for people ages 50 to 59, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advises waiting until age 60 to ensure that the vaccine is most protective at the age when risk for developing shingles and its complications are highest.

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