Below are 10 of the most common questions people have about the shingles vaccine:
1. Who is at risk for shingles?
Everyone who has ever had chickenpox, even a mild case that may not have been diagnosed. This includes approximately 99 percent of Americans over age 40. Researchers estimate that 30 to 50 percent of the current population will experience shingles.
2. How safe is the vaccine?
This is the most attenuated of all currently licensed live attenuated virus vaccines. It is fully susceptible to antiviral drugs as a back-up treatment for complications.
3. How effective is the vaccine?
In clinical trials, it reduced the incidence of shingles by 51 percent and the burden of illness by 61 percent, as vaccinated patients who did experience shingles had milder cases.
4. Can I get better protection with more than one shot of the vaccine?
This possibility is still under investigation. See http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=zoster+vaccine.
5. How long has the vaccine been on the market?
Zostavax was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2005.
6. How is the shingles vaccine different from the chickenpox vaccine?
Both vaccines use the same live attenuated virus, but the shingles vaccine has a minimum potency at least 14 times as high as the chickenpox virus.
7. I had chickenpox, so I expect to have antibodies against the virus for life. Why should a vaccine help me?
Cell mediated immunity is also important for fighting the varicella zoster virus. While you do have antibodies for life, cell mediated immunity decreases over time. The risk of shingles increases with age, but it is rare to have a second episode of shingles. Thus researchers theorized that an episode of shingles boosts the immune response to the virus. The vaccine provides an attenuated virus that also boosts the immune response, but without causing shingles symptoms.
8. If my child gets a chickenpox vaccine, what are his/her chances for getting shingles later in life?
Researchers hope that universal childhood vaccination will eradicate shingles as well as chickenpox.
9. Who should get the shingles vaccine?