older man with a beard getting a shot in his arm

If you have ever had chicken pox as a kid you are at risk for shingles as an adult. That’s because the virus that causes this childhood illness is varicella zoster, the same virus that causes shingles. Even though we get over chicken pox, the virus remains in our bodies. It migrates up nerve cells to the trigeminal and dorsal root ganglia near the brain and spinal cord. The virus goes dormant for decades and can reemerge when our immune system lets down its guard. This can happen as we age or after immune suppressing drugs. The key question: how effective is the Shingrix vaccine in preventing a shingles attack? That’s what this reader wants to know.

Shingles Suffering Can Be Horrific!

Q. My older brother suffered from long-lasting pain after shingles. This is something my late mother experienced as well. Consequently, I decided to go ahead and get the Shingrix vaccine.

For most people, it seems, the side effects of the vaccine are likely to be less troubling than the suffering resulting from shingles. My wife and I both had the vaccine. We had sore arms, with warmth at the injection site, but that was it. My brother is still receiving care at a pain-control clinic several years after having shingles. I would like to avoid that fate!

How Good is the Shingrix Vaccine Really?

A. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the Shingrix vaccine is about 97 percent effective in people 50 to 69 years old. Effectiveness drops a bit in people over 70, to about 91 percent. That’s still impressive.

Protection remains high for at least four years after vaccination. That’s also impressive.

Postherpetic Neuralgia:

Shingles is a painful rash caused by the virus that causes chickenpox. Sometimes after the rash fades, the patient is left with excruciating nerve pain and tenderness in that area of the skin. That complication is called postherpetic neuralgia.

It can be extremely hard to treat. Two doses of the Shingrix vaccine were 86 percent effective in preventing the development of postherpetic neuralgia, the lasting pain your brother has suffered.

The Two-Shot Shingrix Vaccine Dilemma!

Shingrix is given as two shots two to six months apart. At the moment, the vaccine is in short supply, so many people who would like to receive it are having trouble finding it.

We have received a number of complaints from people who got the first Shingrix vaccine but then discovered they could not get the follow-up injection.

Betty in Richmond, VA ran into that exact problem:

“In today’s column newspaper column you mentioned that the Shingrix vaccine is in short supply. I have been on the waiting list for 8 months. What happens when I finally get my shot if I can’t get the followup shot within the 6 month time frame?”

The CDC Answers About the Shingrix Vaccine Shortage:

Here is what the CDC has to say about the delay dilemma:

Q: Is Shingrix currently on backorder?

A: Yes. Due to high levels of demand for GSK’s Shingrix vaccine, providers should anticipate ordering limits and intermittent shipping delays for Shingrix. It is anticipated order limits and shipping delays will continue throughout 2019. GSK increased the US supply available for 2018 and plans to make even more doses available in the US in 2019. Additionally, GSK will continue to release doses to all customer types on a consistent and predictable schedule during 2019.

Q: What is the clinical guidance during the Shingrix delay?

A: Shingrix is the preferred shingles vaccine. You and patients should make every effort to ensure that two doses are administered within the recommended interval. If more than 6 months have elapsed since the first dose, administer the second dose as soon as possible. Do not restart the vaccine series, and do not substitute Zostavax® (zoster vaccine live) for the second dose of Shingrix.”

Dr. William Schaffner is one of the countries leading vaccine experts. He is professor of preventive medicine and infectious disease at Vanderbilt School of Medicine. In an article for Consumer Reports, Dr. Schaffner stated:

“The CDC’s recommendation, based on evidence from clinical trials, is to get your second dose of Shingrix anywhere from two to six months after the first.

“But if it takes longer than that to locate a second dose, don’t worry, Schaffner says. The CDC advises simply getting that second dose as soon as you can find it—and no, you don’t have to start the series over.

“’The timing is not critical,’ Schaffner notes. ‘You just don’t want to get it sooner than recommended because then the body’s immunity is still working on the first dose, so you don’t get the full benefit of the second.’”

We’re not quite sure why there has been such a shortage in the Singrix vaccine. GSK maintains that the demand is outstripping the supply, but this shortage has been going on for many months and is likely to continue.

Individuals who received the older shingles vaccine, Zostavax, at least five years ago can still benefit from the newer Shingrix vaccine.

Read more about Shingrix in this post by our consultant, Karen Berger, Pharma, RPh:

Shingrix: Should You or Shouldn’t You? A Pharmacist’s Thoughts

Shingrix: Should You or Shouldn’t You? A Pharmacist’s Thoughts

There are 57 comments from other readers following Karen’s article. You may find them of interest.

Please share your own experience with Shingrix in the comment section below.

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  1. Dee Melluzzo

    I would like to know if you did not get chicken pox still need the Shingrix vaccine?

  2. M.J.

    I haven’t seen anything about whether someone who had the Zostavax shot (I had it 15 years ago and had a mild case of shingles about 4 years ago) should get the Shingrix shot.

  3. Carol
    Houston TX

    I received the first shot with no side effects. The 2nd one put me in bed with flu like symptoms (fever and bone aches) for several days with my arm turning red almost all the way around it. I have had neck pain for over 7 months which started at the same time as the 2nd shot. I assume that it is related but can’t prove that.

  4. Marilee

    I had shingles 6 years ago and remember the pain as if it was yesterday. I also developed postherpetic neuralgia after the rash faded, which lasted for months. There is no real treatment for it other than taking analgesics. One doctor suggested I start taking opioids… NO, I did not. NO regrets on that. I just suffered through and it began to fade. I do not want to go through that again. I’m hearing that the new shot is effective even if you’ve already had shingles. What amazes me is that medicare and most private insurance does not help pay for shingles vaccines. That’s just criminal. Shingles seriously debilitates and can be very harmful depending where on the body it afflicts, so you’d think insurers would want to prevent it.

    • Jan

      If you have a part D plan, check with them. Medicare won’t pay, but my Part D plan paid a large portion my the bill for my Shingrix vaccinations.

  5. mar
    buffalo ny

    If a person over age 75 bears the risk of faintng from the shingrix vaccine, that could result in a broken hip which may result in becoming an invalid. Vertigo and fainting are a frightening thing to anticipate as a reaction, especially to an older person living alone.

  6. Cate
    Eugene, OR

    For years, I have requested that any vaccine I receive be injected into a large buttock muscle. I have no pain or soreness this way. I am a small woman and any injection into the deltoid leaves me sore for days. I don’t understand why this isn’t being offered to people as an alternative injection site, especially when so many complain about arm pain for days after the Shingrix vaccine.

    • Kara

      Cate, this is a really good comment. Thank you. Everytime I get a flu shot in my arm, I get a bad reaction, so I’m going to ask for the shot in my butt next time.

  7. Deni
    Washington state

    My husband and I both got our first dose of shingrix in early December. The shot was like getting a gamma globulin shot you felt it going in. Our arms were very sore, similar to muscles pain after n intense workout. We both developed a slight fever and malaise, which lasted 2 days. All the side effects are listed on the sheet that comes with the vaccination. This however was the first time we experienced any side effect from a vaccination. We also had zostervax a few years back. Any side affects from the vaccination are worth not getting shingles. Especially if you know someone that has had it.

  8. Debbie

    Not everyone has a horrible experience with Shingles. I was expecting it to be dreadful, but was pleasantly surprised. I started with the feeling that my clothing was irritating my skin around my waist on my left side. The skin was sore to the touch, but nothing horrible. Within a few days the telltale rash appeared and the blisters formed. I refused to take the anti-viral after reading about the possible side effects. Instead, I took 1000mg of L-Lysine 3 times a day, upped my Vitamin C to 10 grams per day, took Sambucol daily and put Colloidal Silver Gel on the rash. It was itchy, but there was no pain. From the time the blisters formed to the scabs falling off was about 10 days. Now, I just have some red marks that are fading daily. I would take Shingles again over side effects from a vaccine. Heck, I would take shingles over a bad cold anyday. Perhaps it is the prescription drugs that actually make it worse. The natural approach worked well for me.

  9. Kay
    South Carolina

    My husband and I both had both Shingrix vaccinations. He is on Medicare. He had no side effects from one shot, but the other one gave him a mild fever and tiredness for a day. He had no problem obtaining the shots; they were available and given to him on time. If we paid anything, it wasn’t much because of the supplemental plan we have in addition to Medicare.

    I received the Shingrix vaccinations a year or so after my husband had his. I am on an ACA insurance plan and although it took some maneuvering for the second shot due to the pharmacy not being in network, in the end the insurance paid the full price for both shots and I had no out of pocket cost. The first shot put me in bed for two days with a fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches and sinus headache. It felt like a bad case of the flu, but after two days it went away completely. The second shot did the same thing but only for one day, and the next day I was good to go. My advice would be to plan around possible inability to pursue normal activities for a couple of days after the shot.

    I did have availability issues with both shots. For the first one, I had to search for a pharmacy that had the vaccine in stock, and it was hard to find one. For the second shot, the pharmacy where I had gotten the first one had a preferential list for people who had gotten the first shot with them, so with the second one they were calling people on their list when they got some vaccine in. I was lucky enough to have both shots within the prescribed window.

    My understanding is that this is a different type of vaccination. It has no live virus in it, but it acts by boosting the immune system in a different way than a normal vaccination. The pharmacist was trying to explain it to me. Ask you pharmacist about the way it works.

    I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat. I personally know several people who have gotten shingles, so it is a common thing. I would much rather have a shot, even with some side effects, than the disease. I am a big believer in vaccinations, which I think have saved countless lives since their advent. I was born just as the polio vaccine was coming into use and I thank God for these researchers who spend their lives trying to find ways to truly help the population. The word is overused these days, but they are true heroes.

  10. James L Edge

    Unable to obtain second shot after trying several sources. Why is it in short supply? If it is a patent problem Glaxo has a lot of explain to do . If not why hasn’t Merck or another vaccine maker entered market.

    I have never seen product in such a unmet market not explored. Something fishy here!

  11. Kathy
    Cleveland Heights, Ohio

    I have lichen planus which I got right after receiving the flu vaccine. I am very wary of getting 2 more vaccines!! Is there a mercury preservative in them?

  12. Ali

    I am 62 years old and did not get the vaccine — only because I was busy and kept procrastinating, which I now regret. I came down with a severe case of shingles that lasted well over a month and I got hit with every possible symptom, and it was awful. The nerve pain lingered for weeks after but has mostly subsided. My doctor says I should still get the vaccine but has been vague about when I should do it. I’m concerned that if I do it too soon after recovering, I’ll experience more severe side effects than if I wait. But I certainly don’t want to come down with another shingles attack! It’s now been about 3 months since my shingles episode ended. Any advice about when I should get the vaccine?

  13. O.G.
    South Carolina

    My first shot was uneventful. With the second — which I got by continuing to annoy the pharmacy staff as soon as the appropriate amount of time had passed, asking “Is the second Shingrix shot in yet?” every time I went by — I had two days of serious “flulike symptoms” and two sore arms. (TWO sore arms? What’s THAT about?)

    Still, at 73, I was glad to get the shots finished.

    An aside. Try saying second Shingrix shot three times, fast.

  14. Carolyn

    I had excruciating pain following both vaccinations. I couldn’t move my arm for days without great pain. I also had flu like symptoms. I would not consider getting the shingrix vaccine again.

    • Linda
      Mebane, N.C.

      Carolyn, the few days of pain that you had from the injection is still much better than having Shingles which can leave you with excruciating pain that lasts a lifetime! I had Shingles of the Ear (Ramsay Hunt syndrome) in 2008 and have major facial weakness, facial spasms and cramping (medical Botox every three months), diminished hearing, loss of depth perception (all are unilateral), poor balance and constant dizziness. All this caused by the zoster virus! Would you rather risk living like me? Anyone still debating about getting the Shingrix vaccine, google Ramsay Hunt syndrome and then RUN to your local pharmacy. I have even received the Zostavax vaccine the week that I turned 60 and now have had both of the Shingrix injections (our local pharmacies give preference to customers who have had the first injection in getting their second one in two months – the preferred time period – and up to six months if necessary).

  15. Richard

    We received the Shingrix vaccine, both doses, in late summer and autumn in Jensen Beach, Florida. It was readily available at the CVS drugstore. My wife had flu like symptoms for two days. I had a sore arm for the same period. After that, nothing.

  16. jackie

    I have read that with even having had the Shingles I should still get the shot. I am always confused about getting the shot when I have had shingles. Does having it not give one immunity from getting the Shingles again.

    • Marilee

      Doctors are saying no, that we don’t develop immunity and can be afflicted a second, even third time. I had shingles some years ago and haven’t had it again, but I’m going to try and get the new vaccine. I don’t want to go through the pain and suffering again.

  17. John
    Raleigh NC

    Correction to my last post. My wife told me it was the FDA and not the CDC that she had reported our Shingrix reaction to.

  18. John
    Raleigh NC

    My wife and myself ( ages 68 & 70 ) took the first Shingrix shot and with 12 hours developed extreme pain in both arms. This continued for a period of 10 days and returned sporadically for an additional two weeks. My wife, an RN, tried to report the results to the CDC but was stymied over and over again as their convoluted reporting process threw up roadblocks at every turn. It was if they just didn’t want the information. So, I take the ” light side effects” reports with a great deal of skepticism.

  19. Mary
    Alexandria, Va

    I am very allergic to many molds. How can I find out if any molds or mold extracts are used either to prepare or preserve this vaccine.

    Also, as someone who is very sensitive/allergic to molds, yeast, mushrooms, vinegar, other foods, cats, dogs, grass pollen, tree pollen, and weed pollens–I have a question about my immune system.

    Does my hypersensitivity mean that I have an overly STRONG immune system or a WEAK one?

  20. Chris

    The risks of shingles vaccines are seriously played down. There are law suits in the USA by people seriously injured by them. The vaccines are just a massive amount of the varicella-zoster virus introduced into the body and it often activates the dormant varicella-zoster virus into a devastating shingles episode.

    • Dorothy
      Little Rock, Arkansas

      That was my experience. Two weeks after getting the first shingles shot I had a second outbreak of shingles. I had had the prior severe outbreak of shingles two years previously and have had nerve pain since then. The second outbreak was less severe than the first.

  21. Elizabeth

    Can you still get the two Shingrix shots even if you already had one tiny shingles attack many years prior?
    I had one years ago, after caring for my Mom who had such a bad attack she ended up in hospital for 3 weeks due to the severity of her attack? She suffered for over a year after from the pain it was awful
    When I got a patch the size of a quarter on my lower back that looked like shingles and hurt quite a bit, I was terrified of having an attack like my Moms
    I went immediately to the Dr who said I had the start of a shingles attack he immediately put me on medication which stopped it from spreading or worsening l was so lucky!

    • Jan

      You can definitely get the Shingrix series despite your bout of shingles. I had shingles in 1996, and was still advised to get the series. I had a moderate reaction to each (not mild, but also not serious).

  22. Christen
    Roanoke, VA

    I understand the importance of the vaccine and have had both my doses. But not without a price. I am one of those few who had severe side effects both times. (numbness in fingers, muscle aches, chills, fever, head ache, ear ache) I realize those side effects were much less than a case of shingles and I am thankful the vaccination was available. However, I wish doctors and pharmacists would alert us to the possibility of unusual side effects and let us know if there is any way to alleviate the discomfort if they occur.

  23. Jan

    I took the shingles vaccine several years ago. I don’t remember having to go back for a second shot.
    Is this a newer vaccine?

    • Giant Squirrel

      Yes. Shingrix is new and a two-shot program.

  24. Louise

    I have been interested in getting the shingles vaccine for several years. I am now 63. However 2.5 years ago when I mentioned my intention to my internist I also happen to mention that my son and his wife were about to have a baby. The doctor told me to delay the vaccination due to cell sloughing post vaccine which could be dangerous for the baby. So I waited. Meanwhile the new vaccine was coming out so I put off plans for the shot although still feared getting the vaccine knowing I was frequently around my grandchild.
    A month ago I brought the vaccine discussion up with my doctor only to realize my son and wife are about to have baby # 2. So now I guess I am delaying the vaccine again. Please cllarify and provide guidelines for new grandparents like myself. I will be babysitting , holding and loving this baby and need vaccine clarification as well when I can safely receive the 2 part shingles vacvine be it this year or later. Thank you.

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