The Shingles vaccine

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
June 25, 2008 4:19:20 PM PDT
Many people can remember having chicken pox as a kid. As an adult you're not out of the woods. That's because the chicken pox virus can lead to shingles, considered one of the most painful illnesses that strike later in life. But, you can avoid it. Alice Boynton, 74, and her husband have come to the doctor so Alice can protect herself from one of the most painful illnesses of adult life. She's getting a vaccination to prevent shingles.

"I have a friend who had it for almost a year with great pain and itching, but when I found out you could avoid it, I thought it was a good idea," said Boynton.

The vaccine called Zostavax has been on the market for about two years. It's for routine vaccination of adults over age sixty by the Centers for Disease Control.

"It is very significant. It's diminished the incident and the painful after effect, so this is a very significant breakthrough," said Dr. Lisa Babitz of St. Luke's-Roosevelt.

After contracting the chickenpox virus as a child, the virus hides in nerves along the spine. Any weakening of the body's immune system can release the virus to cause blisters on the skin supplied by that nerve. The nerve pain can go on for months.

The vaccine protects about fifty percent of people and can reduce severity of outbreaks if someone gets shingles.

The only people who shouldn't get the vaccine are those who have a life-threatening reaction to gelatin or the antibiotic Neomycin. If you've had only a skin reaction to Neomycin ointment, you can still take this shot.

The vaccine is safe, except for people who have immune system problems such as AIDS or people on chemotherapy. Some people get some redness or soreness at the site. How long will it protect you?

"Nobody knows the efficacy. Is it ten years? Twenty years? This is something that the future will tell us," said Dr. Babitz.

In other words, a booster shot may be needed. Doctors hope people who got the chickenpox vaccine will never get shingles. The shot costs about $200 and, for now, Medicare does not cover it. Some insurance will cover it, so check with your company.

You can learn more about the vaccine on the CDC website,


STORY BY: Dr. Jay Adlersberg