The shingles vaccine is a vaccine which is designed to prevent outbreaks of shingles, an extremely painful and sometimes very dangerous condition which affects the nervous system. In 2007, the shingles vaccine was recommended for all adults age 60 and older, except in cases where use of the vaccine would be contraindicated, as for instance in someone who is fighting cancer or who recently had a cancer which affected the lymphatic system.
Shingles is caused by the same virus which causes chickenpox in children. When people get chickenpox, the virus stays in their system even after the chickenpox vanishes, remaining latent. Under stress and other conditions, the virus may re-emerge, causing shingles. While both conditions are caused by the same virus, shingles is considerably more painful and dangerous than chickenpox, causing tingling sensations and a painful rash. Shingles can cause neurological complications, including blindness and deafness, and in some cases it can be deadly.
By taking this vaccine, people can greatly reduce the risk of developing the disease. The vaccine appears to be approximately 51% effective, making it less effective than some other vaccines. However, shingles is so debilitating that many doctors think the vaccine is worth it for patients. The vaccine also reduces the risk of neurological complications in patients who develop shingles. It has been certified as safe for use in people who cannot remember whether or not they have had chickenpox, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration, and it can also be used in people who have experienced shingles outbreaks in the past, although it should not be used during an active outbreak.
There are some situations in which the shingles vaccine is not appropriate. People who are allergic to gelatin should not use it, and likewise with people who have compromised immune systems, such as people taking steroids or immunosuppressive drugs. Pregnant women or women planning to be pregnant soon should also avoid the vaccine, and it's important to discuss the vaccine with your doctor to ensure that you are a good candidate, as you may have a condition or item in your medical history which would make it dangerous for you to take the vaccine.
The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine are swelling, itching, and redness around the vaccine site. These symptoms usually resolve within a few days. People for whom the vaccine is contraindicated may develop more severe reactions. It is not possible to transmit the virus as a result of vaccination, so vaccinated individuals do not need to avoid people at risk of developing chickenpox. It is also important to be aware that the shingles vaccine only protects against herpes zoster, the virus linked with chickenpox and shingles, not genital herpes.