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The Shingles Vaccine: Your Questions Answered

If you’ve been to the grocery store or pharmacy recently, you might have noticed signs advertising the shingles vaccine or maybe you’ve heard about it from friends, family or while browsing the Internet. This new vaccine seems to be the buzz everywhere. You may have questions about what it is, how it works and if you should get it or not. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about the shingles vaccine.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a localized skin rash that appears as a series of small blisters and can be extremely painful. It is associated with the varicella zoster virus (the same virus as chicken pox). If you’ve had chicken pox, you have the varicella zoster virus living in your body, which can reappear as shingles years later. The virus most commonly surfaces as shingles in people 50 years of age and older or in people with immune system deficiencies.

What is the shingles vaccine (Zostavax)?

The shingles vaccine, also known as Zostavax, is an injection that is specifically designed to prevent shingles; however, does not eliminate shingles 100%. The vaccine reduces the risk of shingles by about half and remains effective for six years, but may last longer. It can also help reduce pain and other side effects of those who do develop the virus, and decrease the chance of it reoccurring in people who have already had shingles.

How does the vaccine work?

A weakened form of the chicken pox virus is injected into the blood stream, stimulating your immune system to help fight the varicella zoster virus and decrease the likelihood of developing shingles.

Who should get the vaccine?

The shingles vaccine is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for people 60 years old or older. It’s not safe to get the vaccine while you have shingles, so wait for the rash to clear before you receive the injection.

Do not get the vaccine if you have an immune system disease such as HIV/AIDS, are taking medication that effects the immune system, you have cancer or are receiving cancer treatment or if you are pregnant.

Where can I get the vaccine?

The vaccine is administered at most major pharmacies and primary care practices; however, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what’s best for your body before going through with the vaccination. Don’t have a primary care physician? Find one here.

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