This puts everything in one place from what shingles is, to what it will feel like if you get it, and how to avoid it if you’re over 50.
Shingles vaccine and virus: What you need to know
December 15, 2019, 5:00 AM
Q: What do I need to know about shingles? Should I get the vaccine and at what age?
A: After the age of 50, people are at higher risk for shingles, which is a virus related to the chickenpox virus. Shingles can cause a rash that is associated with sharp pain.
Anyone over 50 should get the shingles vaccine, said Dr. Shanu Agarwal, infectious disease physician at Summa Health.
Cases of shingles have risen steadily among Americans 50-59 since 1998, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers are looking at various reasons, but the cause of the increase is still uncertain.
It’s important that patients ask their physician about the vaccine, even if their physician doesn’t suggest it, Agarwal said.
Here is more information about shingles and its vaccine, provided by
What is shingles?
Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash consists of small blisters that typically scab over in seven to 10 days and clear up within two-to-four weeks. Some people run a fever, others don’t.
Shingles can cause an intense itching and burning sensation that sometimes lasts for months or even years after the rash goes away. This long-lasting pain is called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
How is it related to chickenpox?
Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, varicella zoster. The virus stays dormant in the body, usually along the nerves, after the person recovers from chickenpox. Years later, it can reactivate and cause shingles, especially in people with compromised immune systems.
Is there a new vaccine?
Yes. Shingrix, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017, has replaced the older vaccine Zostavax. It, however, is not approved for patients under 50.
In adults 50 to 69 years old who got two doses, Shingrix was 97% effective in preventing shingles; among adults 70 years and older, Shingrix was 91% effective, according to the CDC.
Although some people get shingles even though they were vaccinated, the shot may reduce the severity and length of illness.
Who should get the vaccine?
The CDC recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of Shingrix, two-to-six months apart, to prevent shingles and PHN.
It’s especially important that people with weakened immune systems get protection against shingles. People who have leukemia or HIV, or receive chemotherapy or steroids have weakened immune systems. Agarwal pointed out that the FDA hasn’t yet approved the use of Shingrix for people in this group.
People who have had shingles, received the older vaccine Zostavax or aren’t sure if they had chickenpox should get Shingrix, health experts say.
What about people who aren’t sure if they had chickenpox?
Before the chickenpox vaccine became commonly available in the 1980s, most people contracted chickenpox in childhood. Your physician can test to see if you’ve had chickenpox.
If you’ve never had chickenpox and are exposed to shingles, you can develop chickenpox. Adult cases of chickenpox can be severe and lead to pneumonia.
Those who never had chickenpox also can receive the shingles vaccine after age 50.
Where can I get the vaccine and how much does it cost?
Check your doctor’s office, county board of health and neighborhood pharmacies. To find doctor’s offices or pharmacies near you that offer the vaccine, visit HealthMap Vaccine Finderexternal icon.
Does Medicare or private health insurance pay for the vaccine?
Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) and Medicare Part B (medical insurance) don’t cover the shingles vaccine, according to the Medicare website. In most cases, Medicare Part D (prescription drug plans) covers vaccinations.
Many private health insurance plans cover the vaccine, but it may not be free. Check with your plan.
How much does Shingrix cost?
At Discount Drug Mart, the average cost without insurance is $180-$190. Most people with insurance are charged a co-pay between $0 and $70.
At CVS MinuteClinics, the shot costs $179 without insurance. Costs vary by health insurance plan.
In her column, patient advocacy writer Julie Washington answers readers’ questions about navigating health-care systems and procedures. (She will not address individual treatments.) Send questions and comments for publication — including your name, city and daytime phone number — to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Julie on Twitter @JulieEWash.