New shingles vaccine aims to protect more people

Experts say roughly 1/3 of population over 50 gets shingles in lifetime


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Shingles is a painful condition that involves an outbreak of a rash or blisters on the skin, and it's estimated that a third of the population will suffer from it, but a new vaccine may help.

Experts at the Cleveland Clinic report shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The painful rash may stay in one area of the body, or it may spread to many areas of the body.

Vaccines for shingles were previously recommended for people ages 60 and older, but now, a new, FDA-approved version of the shingles vaccine is recommended for people ages 50 and older. 

The new shingles vaccine is recommended for a larger group of people than the original shingles vaccine was, said Susan Rehm, M.D., an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic. Right now, the CDC is recommending that everybody 50 years of age and older get the new shingles vaccine. 

Dr. Rehm said about a third of people will get shingles at some point in their lifetime, and that risk increases to 50 percent once a person reaches age 50.

The new shingles vaccine is given in two injections, whereas the previous vaccine was given in one.

The new vaccine comes with adjuvant, which means that it is more effective, but may also mean a person's arm will be a little sore after receiving it.

Dr. Rehm said, "A little bit of discomfort from the shot is worth it, however, as about 15 percent of those who get shingles develop a painful condition called postherpetic neuralgia that can last long after the shingles rash has resolved."

This painful complication is difficult to control, and the risk of developing it rises with age.

Dr. Rehm said even those who have had the old vaccine should also get the new one, because the previous vaccine loses effectiveness over time and the new one provides a greater level of protection.

The new vaccine is recommended for everyone  beginning at age 50, including those who have already had shingles or have been vaccinated against chickenpox.

"Even if you have not had chickenpox, you probably have been exposed to it at some time, and you should get vaccinated because you could be at risk for shingles," said Dr. Rehm. 

Dr. Rehm said it's important for people to know that they cannot get shingles from the new vaccine, because there is no live virus in it.