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Herpes Zoster (Shingles) Vaccine

What is Shingles?

  • Shingles is a painful skin rash that is caused by the varicella zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chicken pox. In people who have had chicken pox, the virus lays dormant in nerve cells in the body. In some people, for reasons that are not clear, the virus may become active again, resulting in Shingles.
  • Shingles causes a painful, blistered rash on the skin.
  • Shingles occurs more frequently in adults over 50 years of age and in those with a weakened immune system.
  • 1 out of 5 people who have had shingles may continue to have severe pain that can last months to years after the rash has disappeared. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
  • In rare cases shingles can cause pneumonia, hearing or vision loss, scarring, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or death.
  • You cannot catch shingles from a person who has shingles It is possible for someone who has never had chicken pox or the chicken pox vaccine to get the virus from someone with shingles, though it is rare.

What is the Shingles Vaccine?

  • The shingles vaccine protects against the activation of the herpes zoster virus. It is approved by Health Canada.
  • The shingles vaccine is available to adults aged 50 years and older and recommended for those over 60 years.

Benefits of the Shingles Vaccine

  • The shingles vaccine is the best way to prevent shingles. It reduces the risk of getting shingles by 50%.
  • The vaccine can reduce pain, especially long-term nerve pain in those who still get shingles after immunization.

Is it safe?

  • The Herpes Zoster vaccine is very safe. There is no evidence that it can cause shingles.
  • Some people may experience redness, soreness, rash or itching at the site of injection. Some common side effects may include fever, nausea, dizziness, headache or fatigue.
  • People who have received the vaccine should delay blood donation for 3 months.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Serious side effects are rare but report to your health care provider immediately if you experience: Difficulty breathing, swelling of the face or mouth, a high fever (greater than 39 C), hives or rash.

Who should not receive the vaccine?

Speak with your health care provider if you:

  • Have a severe allergy to any component of the vaccine including gelatin or neomycin.
  • Have a weakened immune system due to illness or medical treatment.
  • Have active, untreated tuberculosis.
  • Have had certain vaccines in the last month (ie: Pneumovax 23, MMR, Varicella)

Please Note:  The Shingles vaccine is available to those over 50 years of age. It is not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). It may be covered by other health insurance plans.

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