Whether to get the shingles vaccine is a complex personal decision, and here are some points to consider as you make it: Your risk of shingles — a painful, blistery rash — rises dramatically as you age. The vaccine, Zostavax, is about 51% effective at preventing shingles but far more effective at preventing a potentially life-ruining complication, a chronic pain condition called postherpetic neuralgia. The vaccine is approved for age 50 and up, and it is generally covered by health insurance if you’re over 60, but coverage for younger people gets spotty, and Zostavax is not cheap, costing up to $200 or so. And preliminary studies suggest that the vaccine’s protection wears off somewhat after a few years.
Left scratching your head? Join the club. I’ve decided to get the vaccine out of sheer terror — I’ve just heard too many horror stories, and the post brought more in the comments section. But because shingles is not generally contagious, your decision does not affect others, so you’ll hear no preaching from me about whether you should get it. I do, however, want to add a few points of information in response to readers’ very good questions:
Q: What about children who have had the chicken pox vaccine? Will they be able to contract shingles in the future? I’ve asked a couple of physicians, and they did not know the answer.
A: According to the CDC: The short answer is yes, but the risk is a small fraction of the risk following chickenpox itself. In case you wish to know more, chickenpox can be mild and unrecognized during infancy or in utero, or following vaccination (the vaccine does not prevent all infections). So kids may get the vaccine and also (often unknowingly) be infected with the natural virus. Also, the weakened virus used to formulate the varicella vaccine can in fact cause shingles. But the risk for all of these seems low and rates of shingles in children and adolescents seem to be declining.
Q: What are the risks for someone who never got chicken pox as a child? Should I get the chicken pox vaccine (in my mid thirties) or wait and get the shingles one? Continue reading