In general, vaccines are known to trigger a few side effects. Most side effects are temporary in nature; these may go away within 2 to 3 days. Vaccines administered for shingles do trigger some side effects. Prior to giving a shot of these vaccines, you may need to know their likely side effects and other possible reactions.

Shingles are caused by a virus known as varicella zoster. It is the same virus which causes chickenpox. Shingles shows up with a sharp pain and it resembles a rash. Unlike chickenpox which spreads to several parts of your body, shingles generally shows up on only one side or area of the body. The rashes it causes soon become blisters. But, these may crust away within a matter of say, 2 weeks. Such rashes appear soon after your see red colored spots along with itchiness.

Two vaccines have passed the approval tests of Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are Zostavax and Shingrix. Between these two, Shingrix is more advanced and effective when compared with Zostavax. It is recommended to people who are of 50 years of age. It is a good practice to go for a shot of Shingrix if (1) you have taken a shot of Zostavax and (2) you have already had a prior episode of shingles. If you are not vaccinated in the past, shingles may occur again in the future. You do not have to wait for a certain timeline before getting a shot of this vaccine – especially, Shingrix. You only need to ensure that the rashes have gone. If the rashes are not seen, then you can go for a shot of Shingrix. However, if you have had a shot of Zostavax, a minimum time of 8 weeks is needed before taking a shot of Shingrix.

Side-effects of Zostavax

This vaccine helps boost your body’s immunity levels and thus defends an attack of the zoster strand of virus. Your body’s immunity – once boosted – prevents the signs of shingles from showing up. It is mainly administered onto adults – i.e., aged 50 years and above. Shots of this vaccine are strictly not given to children. This vaccine is however not used to treat either neuralgia (pain in nerves) due to shingles or an already-developed incidence of this viral attack. Also, this vaccine has limited use in keeping away risks of a likely onset of chickenpox.

Common side effects of Zostavax include inflammation and pain at the site of injection, itchiness, discoloration of skin – especially, a red-colored shade, fever and headache. These signs are experienced only over a short term. Hence, it you see these signs to last longer, you are advised to consult a qualified medical practitioner.

A few users have experienced acute or severe side effects. Such adverse reactions include blurring of eyesight, excessive drowsiness, etc. Extremely serious reactions are respiratory problems, acute spell of dizziness, rashes on skin, inflammation of facial organs, swelling of oral parts and itchiness. If you live in Canada, you are advised to call vaccine safety section, which is part of the Canadian public health agency. In the US, you can inform about such adverse reactions to the reporting system created for adverse events triggered by shots of vaccines – in short, VAERS.

This vaccine is not prescribed for use if you are pregnant. You may also need to avoid getting pregnant within 90 days from the date of a shot. Also, if you (1) have clinical conditions such as cancers affecting lymphocytes or white cells, (2) carry an active respiratory condition like tuberculosis, etc., and (3) are already part of a treatment plan involving radiation therapy, it is highly recommended to inform about such conditions to your doctor. You may need to tell the doctor about reactions experienced while taking shots of vaccines (of any kind).

This vaccine is known to interact with a few antiviral medications of the cyclovir / ciclovir genre – such as famciclovir, valacyclovir, acyclovir, etc. It may also interact with medicines which can reduce your immunity levels – such as tacrolimus, cyclosporine, steroids (especially, corticosteroids) and a few chemotherapeutic medicines – i.e., drugs administered to treat cancers.

Side-effects of Shingrix

Shingrix is administered to stop the signs of shingles from developing into a full-fledged medical condition. This vaccine enhances your immunity levels against viruses causing shingles. As mentioned, this virus is the same as the one which causes chickenpox. It may remain dormant for a long time at the roots of your nerves. They may wake up from their dormancy – anytime – to trigger shingles. This vaccine is not administered onto children; instead, it is used only for adults aged 50 years or more. It is known to offer protection from shingles upto an extent of upto 85%. Such protection is known to last for at least 4 years from the date of your shot.

A shot of Shingrix is given on the upper part of your arm. Two doses of this vaccine are considered to give an optimal level of immunity. At such higher immunity levels, you stand protected from the symptoms of a viral infection becoming shingles.

Common side effects of this vaccine are increase in body temperature, discoloration of skin, inflammation, itchiness, etc. It can also lead to headache, excessive weariness, etc. Very rare reactions of the vaccine include ringing in your ears, changes in your vision and drowsiness. Extremely severe side effects are very rare. Such very adverse side effects are breathing problems, acute level of drowsiness, swelling of face as well as itchiness. At very remote instances, you may observe rashes forming on your skin. As the reactions mentioned above do not make a full list of such risks, you are advised to consult your treating doctor about other likely side effects. Upon experiencing these side effects, you are advised to call 911 or a local poison control center as soon as possible.

If you are pregnant, ensure that the administering doctor or your medical team is aware of your pregnancy. In general, a shot of this drug is given only when there is an acute need of it for pregnant women. Also, it is not clear if the substances in Shingrix can pass onto your breast milk. So, if you are nursing / feeding a baby, you are advised to talk to your treating doctor about it. You also need to tell your medical team if you have had any prior allergies when a shot of vaccine was given.

It is equally important to tell about your medical history – including conditions such as cancers, HIV AIDS or other similar ailments. You need to stay aware that Shingrix can interact with a few types of steroids – such as prednisone, etc. It may also adversely interact with cyclosporine as well as with a few cancer treatment drugs – especially, chemotherapy medicines.

In general, Shingrix is more effective than its counterpart – Zostavax. But, if you are allergic to Shingrix then your doctor may give you a shot of Zostavax. It is also given when the need for vaccination is urgent and stocks of Shingrix are not readily available. The good thing about Shingrix is there is no upper limit for age to take a shot of this vaccine.

What if you do not remember if you had chickenpox? Shingrix can be administered whether you remember a prior incidence of chickenpox or not.

In sum, FDA has cleared Zostavax and Shingrix for boosting your body’s immunity levels against a likely onset of shingles. Common side effects of Zostavax are inflammation, discoloration of skin, fever and headache. All these signs are short term in nature. So, if you experience these signs for long, you are advised to seek help from a qualified medical practitioner. The common side effects of Shingrix include fever, swelling, itchiness, headache and excessive tiredness. The effects reactions listed here do not form a complete list. So, it is highly recommended to consult your doctor about other likely side effects.


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