Why getting the new shingles vaccine is a good idea—even if you got the old one

May 15, 2018 by Bev Betkowski, University of Alberta
Credit: University of Alberta

It's a good idea for most Canadians 50 and older to get the newest vaccine to prevent shingles—even if they've already had Zostavax, the only previously available option, says a University of Alberta pharmacist.

People who've received Zostavax to avoid the misery of shingles may have noticed the arrival of Shingrix, a new vaccine that became available in Canada at the beginning of 2018. Experts hail it as lasting longer and being more than 90 per cent effective in preventing the disease, which comes with a painful, blistering rash caused by the same virus that results in chickenpox. By comparison, Zostavax is only 50 per cent effective on average, said Christine Hughes, a professor in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

It may leave some wondering if it's safe to double up on shingles vaccines by getting the Shingrix immunization but the good news is, they can, she said.

"For people who are worried, it's not thought to have any associated problems. The effectiveness of Zostavax tends to decrease within five years of receiving the immunization, so it makes sense to consider getting Shingrix for long-term protection."

Though the best timing hasn't been determined yet, it makes sense to get the Shingrix shot about four or five years after the Zostavax was given, she added. "For seniors over age 70 or 80, it could be sooner, since Zostavax is not very effective."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Shingrix for people who've already had shingles or chickenpox, or can't recall if they had the childhood disease. CDC estimates that one in three people will get shingles, and people 50 and older are at particular risk as their immune system ages. At its worst, can leave scarring, long-term nerve pain or even blindness if the rash is facial.

The new vaccine has shown to be highly effective in preventing reactivation of the virus and doesn't appear to wane as people age, Hughes noted.

"Unlike Zostavax, the effectiveness of Shingrix doesn't seem to drop off, even after four years, suggesting it has a much longer-lasting effect."

In people aged 60 to 69, for instance, Shingrix has proven 97 per cent effective, compared with Zostavax at 64 per cent. In the elderly, aged 80 and older, it's still more than 90 per cent effective versus about 18 per cent with Zostavax, Hughes noted.

Because Shingrix isn't a live vaccine, it's thought to be safer for who are immune-compromised, though confirming data is still being gathered, Hughes noted. It's also thought to be suitable for those taking low doses of steroids or immunosuppressive therapy for conditions like arthritis or .

"Shingrix is based on newer technology. It has an adjuvant—a substance that enhances the body's immune response—to help the immune system respond better to the vaccine itself," Hughes said.

The only downside to the Shingrix is that it takes two injections, given two to six months apart, instead of one with Zostavax, and it's been reported to cause more muscle pain to the injection site and in some cases, headache, fever or tiredness, "but no long-term side-effects," added Hughes.

The Shingrix vaccination, which can range in price from $150 to $190, is available in Alberta pharmacies but is not covered by .

Explore further: Shingles vaccine important for older adults

Related Stories

Shingles vaccine important for older adults

December 4, 2017
Shingles, also referred to as herpes zoster, is a painful rash that develops as the result of reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). VZV is responsible for varicella infection, more commonly known as chicken pox.

Panel recommends new, better shingles shot over old version

October 25, 2017
A federal panel recommended Wednesday that older people already vaccinated for shingles get a new, better shot.

Why the latest shingles vaccine is more than 90 percent effective

March 7, 2018
A new study has shown how the body's immune system responds to the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, making it more than 90% effective at protecting against the virus.

US vaccine panel to discuss waning effectiveness, new shots

October 24, 2017
Two years ago, George Green got stabbing pain and bad blisters around his right arm. It was the worst case of shingles his doctor had ever seen.

Second University of Colorado vaccine approved by FDA for shingles

October 28, 2017
The Centers for Disease Control's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended new treatment practices Wednesday for shingles based on a vaccine initially developed at the University of Colorado Health Sciences ...

Shot may protgect against shingles

February 19, 2018
Anyone who has had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine is at risk for the painful skin condition herpes zoster, more commonly known as shingles. Both diseases are caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which stays in the ...

Recommended for you

A new approach to developing a vaccine against vivax malaria

September 21, 2018
A novel study reports an innovative approach for developing a vaccine against Plasmodium vivax, the most prevalent human malaria parasite outside sub-Saharan Africa. The study led by Hernando A. del Portillo and Carmen Fernandez-Becerra, ...

Pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine offers hope for third generation approach

September 21, 2018
Researchers from the University of Oxford's Department of Zoology have demonstrated pre-clinical success for a universal flu vaccine in a new paper published in Nature Communications.

Researchers define possible molecular pathway for neurodegeneration in prion diseases

September 21, 2018
A new study has shed light on the mechanisms underlying the progression of prion diseases and identified a potential target for treatment.

Fighting a deadly parasite: Scientists devise a method to store Cryptosporidium, aiding vaccine research efforts

September 21, 2018
In May, just before one of the hottest summers on record, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning about diseases lurking in recreational water facilities like swimming pools and water playgrounds. ...

Scientists make significant discovery in the fight against drug-resistant tuberculosis

September 20, 2018
A team of scientists have identified a naturally occurring antibiotic that may help in the fight against drug-resistant Tuberculosis.

Anti-cancer drugs may hold key to overcoming antimalarial drug resistance

September 20, 2018
Scientists have found a way to boost the efficacy of the world's most powerful antimalarial drug with the help of chemotherapy medicines, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.