What Seniors Should Know about Shingles and the Vaccine

Sunrise Senior Living  |  November 25, 2020
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There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about vaccines. From COVID-19 to the seasonal flu, many people are weighing in and debating about how beneficial immunizations really are. One vaccine that isn’t getting the attention it deserves is the one used to guard against shingles

If you aren’t familiar with shingles, it is a painful condition caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Known as the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), it lives in your body if you had chicken pox at any age. The virus can flare up and cause a painful condition called shingles. For many individuals, an episode of shingles can be debilitating.

From shooting nerve pain to blisters and a rash, shingles can be agonizing. More common in older adults, it seems to be triggered by stress and a weakened immune system. A bout of shingles can last 3 to 5 weeks or even longer. You can learn more by reading Can You Catch Shingles?

The Newer Shingles Vaccine

Prior to 2017, adults aged 50 and older were encouraged to get a vaccine called Zostavax. It used a live virus and was believed to offer limited protection for up to 5 years.

In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new, two-step vaccine for shingles. Known as Shingrix, it is now the preferred method of immunizing older adults against the shingles virus. Researchers say it offers more people protection for a longer period of time.

Shingrix is a nonliving vaccine given in 2 doses that are administered with 2 to 6 months in between doses. The most common side effects of this vaccine are redness, pain, and headaches. Some people also experience itching and tenderness at the injection site.

Unlike Zostavax, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that Shingrix be administered to adults age 60 and over. You should also be vaccinated whether you had the chicken pox or not.

While the shingles vaccine is available at many local pharmacies, you’ll want to make sure to discuss the matter with your doctor before being immunized. The CDC recommends the following issues be included in any conversations you have with your primary care physician about shingles vaccines:

  • Any previous allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other components in the shingles vaccine
  • History of a weakened immune system caused by HIV/AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
  • Have or have previously had any type of cancer that affects the bone marrow or lymphatic system (i.e. leukemia or lymphoma)
  • Receiving immune system-suppressing drugs or treatments, including radiation, chemotherapy, steroids, adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), etanercept (Enbrel), or others

Responding to Concerns

At Sunrise, we know the shingles virus isn’t the only concern on the minds of residents, staff, and families. The coronavirus continues to be a worry for everyone. We remain focused on protecting all of those who are connected with our communities. You can learn more by visiting We Are Prepared for the most recent updates and information.