All About the Shingles Vaccine

August is National Immunization Awareness Month, a project of the CDC and National Public Health Information Coalition.

Immunizations are a public health concern because un-immunized people can spread diseases to their loved ones, neighbors, and co-workers. Vaccines are especially important for seniors, because their bodies are often frailer and more susceptible to complications of various diseases.

Here at Regency Nursing, we take vaccines very seriously for our residents and staff. If you visit loved ones at a Regency facility often, we request you stay up-to-date on your vaccines. The last thing you want to do is infect your elderly loved one or her roommate.

In honor of National Immunization Awareness Month, we’ll highlight a different vaccine every week on our blog. There are specific vaccines that are recommended specifically for seniors, so today we’ll talk about a vaccine you should take if you’re over 50.

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Shingles

Shingles is acute, painful nerve inflammation. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus as chickenpox. If you have ever had chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus remains, dormant, in your body. It can reappear at any time in the form of shingles.

Debilitating pain is the main symptom of shingles. A blistering rash usually begins 1–5 days after the pain begins, often on one band of skin. The outbreak can last between 2 and 4 weeks, and can completely devastate daily function, especially in the elderly.

Other symptoms include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • malaise
  • nausea
  • muscle pain and weakness
  • chills
  • upset stomach
  • difficulties with urination
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • swollen glands

Shingles can cause complications such as skin infection, inflammation of the brain, eye problems, nerve damage, and weakness.

Your risk of a shingles outbreak goes up exponentially after 50. Therefore, the CDC recommends all individuals age 50 and up receive the singles vaccine.

Shingles Vaccine

A new vaccine called Shingrix received FDA approval last October. It involves two doses, given 2–6 months apart. The vaccine is 90 percent effective against shingles and postherpetic neuralgia—a painful nerve condition that is a known complication of shingles.

The previous shingles vaccine, Zostavax, only reduced your risk of shingles by 51 percent, so this is clearly the better option. The CDC says you should take Shingrix even if you’ve already gotten Zostavax. You should also take the vaccine if you don’t remember having had chickenpox, as you may have had it as a very young child.

Side effects of Shingrix include mild soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Some people also reported headaches or feeling tired and achy after receiving the shot.

The worst side effects lasted 2 or 3 days, and the CDC says that even if you experience those side effects, it’s still better than suffering through weeks of shingles and possible complications.