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Herpes Zoster (Shingles) & Shingles Vaccine Quick Facts



  • Herpes zoster (shingles) is a viral infection caused by the Varicella Zoster (chicken pox) virus.1 Individuals suffering with shingles cannot transmit shingles to others. However, someone, who has not already recovered from chickenpox disease, can get chickenpox from a person with shingles. This is believed to be from direct contact with the shingles lesions.2
  • Herpes zoster is not caused by Herpes simplex Types 1 and 2 associated with cold sores and sexually transmitted genital herpes;3
  • Shingles involves inflammation of the nerves and a very painful blistering skin rash that typically lasts two to four weeks;4
  • Symptoms of shingles include pain, itching or tingling of areas of the skin, usually on the trunk of the body, along with fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach;5
  • Complications of shingles include post-herpatic neuralgia (chronic nerve pain), loss of vision, hearing problems, brain inflammation (encephalitis), Bell’s Palsy, pneumonia and, rarely, death;6
  • Herpes zoster is most common in individuals over 50 years of age7, however, Individuals with weakened immune systems are at higher risk;8
  • Treatment with antivirals may shorten the time it takes to recover from shingles;9

Shingles Vaccine

  • The CDC recommends healthy adults 50 years and older be vaccinated against shingles;
  • There are two vaccines licensed in the U.S.: Zostavax, a live virus vaccine, licensed in 2006 and manufactured by Merck10 11 and Shingrix, a genetically engineered12  recombinant, adjuvanted vaccine, licensed in 2017 and manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.13 Both vaccines are approved for use in the U.S. by healthy adults over 50 years and Shingrix was given preference by the ACIP in 2017;
  • Reported complications from Zostavax vaccine include local swelling, pain and redness at injection site; zoster-like skin rash, headache, joint pain, muscle pain, fever, abnormally swollen glands, and hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylaxis (shock);14
  • Reported complications from Shingrix vaccine include swelling, pain and redness at the injection site, headache, muscle pain, shivering, fatigue, gout (including gouty arthritis), and optic ischemic neuropathy;15
  • Zostavax vaccine effectiveness is reported to be about 51 percent16 while Shingrix is reported to be over 90 percent effective,17 but no test is available to determine immunity to shingles and long-term vaccine effectiveness is unknown;18
  • Zostavax vaccine contains live attenuated varicella zoster virus and vaccine strain virus transmission of chickenpox from the vaccinated to susceptible individuals has been reported;19
  • Mass use of chickenpox vaccine by children in the U.S. since 1995 has limited natural boosting of Varicella Zoster immunity in the adult population and there has been a significant increase in cases of Herpes zoster among adults.20
  • Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of May 31, 2019 there have been 61,217 reports of shingles vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following shingles vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 179 related deaths, 2,141 hospitalizations, and 1,157 related disabilities.

Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

Search for Vaccine Reactions

NVIC is proud to host MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.

Reporting a Vaccine Reaction

Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is the law. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.

Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients

Our Ask 8, If You Vaccinate webpage contains vaccine reaction symptoms and more. 

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.

« Return to Vaccines & Diseases Table of Contents


1 CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Shingles Home - For Health Care Professionals – Clinical Overview. Revised Feb. 21, 2018

2 CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Shingles Home – About Shingles - Transmission. Revised Jan. 19, 2018

3 Mayo Clinic. Shingles. Mar. 9, 2018

4 CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) – Shingles Home – About Shingles – Signs and Symptoms. Revised Oct. 17, 2017

5 Ibid

6 CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) - Shingles Home – About Shingles – Complications. Revised Jan. 19, 2018

7 Medical News Today. What is Shingles? Nov. 29, 2017

8 CDC. Shingles (Herpes Zoster) - Shingles Home – About Shingles – Overview. Revised Jan. 19, 2018

9 Janniger, C. Herpes Zoster Medication. Medscape. Mar. 6, 2018

10 FDA. Zostavax (Frozen). Product Information Sheet. Mar. 21, 2018

11 FDA. Zostavax (Refrigerator Stable). Product Information Sheet. Mar. 21, 2018

12 NIH. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Research – NIAID’s Role in Research – Vaccines – Types of Vaccines. Apr. 3, 2012

13 FDA. Shingrix. Product Information Sheet. Oct. 20, 2017

14 FDA. Zostavax (Frozen). Product Information Sheet. Mar. 21, 2018

15 FDA. Shingrix. Product Information Sheet. Oct. 20, 2017

16 CDC. Vaccines and Preventable Diseases – Vaccines by Disease – Shingles. Revised Jan. 25, 2018

17 CDC. Vaccines and Preventable Diseases – Vaccines by Disease – Shingles – Shingles Vaccination. Revised Feb. 28, 2018

18 CDC. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for Use of Herpes Zoster Vaccines. MMWR Jan 26, 2018; 67(3);103–108

19 Ibid

20 Goldman, G.S., King, P.G. Review of the United States universal varicella vaccination program: Herpes zoster incidence rates, cost-effectiveness, and vaccine efficacy based primarily on the Antelope Valley Varicella Active Surveillance Project data. Vaccine, 2013 Mar 25; 31(13): 1680–1694

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