Editors notes: Dr. Storey recently read this story and wanted to share it with her patients. It was orginally posted on WebMD. This story was updated on Oct. 16, 2018 to reflect that some people with insurance may still face out-of-pocket costs.
Feb. 12, 2018 — In October 2017, the FDA approved a new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix. This January, the CDC officially recommended that adults 50 and over get the new vaccine to prevent this painful, blistering disease instead of the previous one, Zostavax. WebMD asked a few infectious disease experts how Shingrix works and whether it has any risks.
How is Shingrix different from Zostavax?
Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and a painful complication called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in all age groups. Zostavax only lowers the odds of getting shingles by 51%, and of PHN by 67%. It’s even less effective in people ages 70 and older.
The Zostavax vaccine has been around since 2006. It contains a live but weakened version of varicella zoster — the virus that causes shingles and chickenpox.Shingrix has a dead version of the zoster virus. It also contains an adjuvant — a substance that helps your body fight off the virus better. “It causes your immune system to produce more antibodies to fight shingles than the other vaccine produced. So your body has a stronger immune response to the Shingrix vaccine than to the Zostavax vaccine,” says Michael Hogue, PharmD, a professor of pharmacy at the Samford University College of Health Sciences.
Why is Shingrix recommended for people ages 50 and older?
You can get Shingrix at age 50, when your chance of having shingles rises. Studies have shown that its protection remains strong for at least 4 years, but researchers hope it will last much longer because the immune response is stronger.
“The CDC recommended that Zostavax stay at 60 and older because they were concerned the immunity would wane, and there would be a number of people who were vaccinated in their 50s who wouldn’t be protected in their 70s,” says Kenneth Schmader, MD, a professor of medicine and chief in the division of geriatrics at Duke University Medical Center.
“It looks as though it’s going to stay high with virtually undiminished protection,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University. “Shingrix is clearly a superior vaccine.”
Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?
The CDC says healthy adults ages 50 and over should get the Shingrix vaccine. You should get it even if you’re not sure if you ever had chickenpox, the CDC says.
How many doses of the vaccine do you need?
You need two doses, given 2 to 6 months apart. “That second dose is really important to make sure you get long-term protection,” Hogue says.
What are the side effects?
Shingrix causes more side effects than Zostavax. “That’s the price you pay for the boost in immune response,” Schmader says.