Ask the Pharmacist: Shingles Vaccine: What You Need to Know

Ask the Pharmacist

By: Stefanie Black, Pharmacist at Thrifty Foods Pharmacy James Bay

Shingles is a virus called herpes zoster; it is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Over 90% of adults in Canada have been exposed to the chickenpox virus. As you age, the immune system weakens and the chickenpox virus can reactivate and become shingles. Shingles can result in a painful, blistering rash that can sometimes lead to long lasting nerve pain.

Shingrix is a new vaccine for shingles prevention that is over 90% effective and became available this year. At this time, there is evidence to show that the vaccine is still highly effective up to 4 years and more data will continue to be collected on its longevity. The older vaccine (called Zostavax) is 50-60% effective depending on your age and protection decreases significantly by 5 years post-vaccination and is likely not protective after 7 years. If you have previously received Zostavax, it is recommended to get Shingrix but you should wait one year after receiving Zostavax.

Shingrix is given as two intramuscular injections; the second dose given two to six months after the first. This vaccine is an inactive vaccine meaning it can be given to people with weakened immune systems; whereas the original vaccine was a live vaccine and could not be given to these individuals. Individuals receiving the Shingrix vaccine may experience injection site pain which is expected in 69-89% of people.

Vaccination against shingles should be considered for anyone 50 years of age or older. Shingles can reoccur so it is recommended that you get vaccinated at least one year after having an episode of shingles.

Neither vaccine for shingles is covered by the BC government but some insurance plans may pay. You may contact your private insurance to check if they will cover this. Provide them with the DIN 02468425. Contact your pharmacy to ask about pricing.

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