Disease & Vaccine Information

What is Shingles Vaccine?

Updated December 18, 2022


There are two shingles vaccines licensed for use in the U.S.; Zostavax live attenuated vaccine by Merck and SHINGRIX recombinant vaccine by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. The use of Zostavax was discontinued in the U.S. in November 2020.1

SHINGRIX adjuvanted recombinant vaccine licensed in 2017 is a two-dose series vaccine administered intramuscularly (injected into muscle). This vaccine is genetically engineered and contains sucrose, sodium chloride, dioleoyl phosphatidylcholine (DOPC), potassium dihydrogen phosphate, cholesterol, sodium dihydrogen phosphate dihydrate, disodium phosphate anhydrous, dipotassium phosphate, polysorbate 80, Chinese Hamster Ovary (CHO) cell proteins, and DNA.2 This vaccine uses AS01B, a novel adjuvant system, that contains both QS-21 Stimulon and MPL (monophosphyoryl lipid a). QS-21 Stimulon is a purified extract from the bark of the Quillaja saponaria vergreen, or soap bark tree.3 It is designed to enhance the “turbocharge vaccines by strengthening and broadening immune responses (both T cell and antibody mediated) to a vaccine’s antigens.”4 MPL is an immune-stimulating fat.5

Zostavax live attenuated shingles vaccine licensed in 2006 is a much more potent version of Varivax chickenpox vaccine containing 19,500 plaque forming units of Oka/Merck varicella zoster virus versus 1,350 plaque forming units in the chickenpox vaccine.6 This vaccine is administered subcutaneously as a one-dose shot and contains sucrose, hydrolyzed porcine (pig) gelatin, urea (urine component), sodium chloride, monosodium L-glutamate, sodium phosphate dibasic, potassium phosphate monobasic, potassium chloride, MRC-5 cells (1966 aborted human male lung tissue)7, neomycin and bovine (cow) calf serum (blood plasma).8 9

IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Shingles and the Shingles vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents , which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.



[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Everyone Should Know About Zostavax. In: Vaccines and Preventable Diseases. Oct. 5, 2020.

[2] GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. Package Insert – SHINGRIX. U.S. Food and Drug Administration Aug. 2, 2021.

[3] Raines K. New Supercharged Shingles Vaccine Has Serious Problems. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 4, 2018.

[4] Ragupathi G, Gardner JR, Livingston PO et al. Natural and synthetic saponin adjuvant QS-21 for vaccines against cancer. Expert Rev Vaccines Apr. 2011;10(4):463-70.

[5] Raines K. New Supercharged Shingles Vaccine Has Serious Problems. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 4, 2018.

[6] Fisher BL. The Emerging Risks of Live Virus & Virus Vectored Vaccines. National Vaccine Information Center 2014.

[7] Coriell Institute for Medical Research. NG05965 DNA from Fibroblast. Accessed Mar. 14, 2022.

[8] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary. The Pink Book. Nov. 1, 2021.

[9] Merck & Co. Inc. Package Insert - Zostavax (Frozen). U.S. Food and Drug Administration Dec. 26, 2019.

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