What is the shingles vaccine?
Herpes Zoster, commonly known as shingles, is a disease caused by the reactivation of the Varicella zoster virus, hidden in an individual’s body (most likely from childhood). Typically, the disease is manifested by an inflammatory plaque elongated and covered with blisters that develop on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The blisters are temporary and harmless. An individual should make sure that the shingles rash has disappeared before getting vaccinated. For some individuals, pain may occur and last for months or even years after the rash has gone away. This long-lasting pain is the most common complication of shingles.
The risk of zoster increases with age; which is why it is more common in individuals among the age of 60 or older. Individuals with weakened immune systems (lymphoma, leukemia, cancer, HIV) as well as individuals who receive certain medications (steroids and cancer chemotherapy) are at greater risk of zoster. Other individuals who are at highest risk from getting a shingles vaccine include:
- Individuals with severe allergic reactions to gelatin
- Individuals who have undergone bone marrow or organ transplantation
- Individuals with active, untreated tuberculosis
- Women who are or might be pregnant
Most individuals who develop shingles typically have only one episode in their lifetime, though in rare cases, an individual can have a second or even a third episode. Shingles cannot be passed from one individual to another; however, the varicella-zoster virus can be spread from one individual with shingles at the active stage to an individual who has never suffered from chickenpox.
What is the shingles vaccine composed of?
The shingles vaccine is made from a weakened form of the virus known as Varicella zoster and can inhibit the reactivation of the virus latent in the body and thus prevent the onset of shingles and Post Herpetic Neuralagia (long-lasting pain).
When is it recommended to receive the shingles vaccine?
As the risk of shingles and PHN increases with age, the shingles vaccine is recommended for individuals aged 60 and over and is administered subcutaneously in the upper arm (under the skin) in a single dose.
Anyone over the age of 60 should receive a shingles vaccine, regardless of whether they recall having had chickenpox, which is caused by the same virus as shingles. The vaccine is sterile and does not contain any preservatives.It can help prevent further occurrences of the disease as it reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51% and PHN by 67%.
What are the side effects of the shingles vaccine?
Following administration, only a slight pain may be felt at the injection site. Mild symptoms that may occur include the following:
- Soreness at the injection site
- Pain in the extremities
Like all vaccines, there is the possibility of serious problems occurring, such as severe allergic reactions. Though rare, there are such cases that may present themselves and cause symptoms in individuals such as hives, difficulty breathing, weakness, dizziness, fast heartbeat, and swelling of the face and throat. These problems may occur within minutes or a few hours after the vaccination, depending on the individual’s immune system. If the allergic reaction becomes extremely severe, seeking immediate medical attention is vital.