Two Good Reasons to Get a Shingles Jab

Shingles vaccine effective in seniors at preventing shingles and post herpetic neuralgia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Seeing the doctor to get a routine vaccine doesn't stop when you outgrow childhood. In fact, seniors over age 65 are encouraged to get the shingles vaccine – and for good reason.

A recent study found that getting the shingles vaccine cut the risk of shingles in half among those who were vaccinated.

Further, those who got the vaccine and still got shingles were much less likely to get a painful complication linked to shingles.

"Get your shingles vaccine."

The study, led by Sinead M. Langan, PhD, MSc, of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom, aimed to find out the effectiveness of the shingles vaccine.

The researchers focused on 766,330 seniors, aged 65 and older, selected as a random sample of 5 percent of the Medicare population who were eligible for the herpes zoster vaccine. Herpes zoster is shingles.

The researchers looked at whether the seniors had gotten the shingles vaccine and then looked at the rates of shingles and of post-herpetic neuralgia in the seniors.

Post-herpetic neuralgia is a complication of shingles which involves pain that lasts well after the actual shingles infection has gone away. It causes a burning sensation in your nerves and skin.

In doing their calculations, the researchers took into account any differences that might naturally occur in shingles rates due to participants' age, sex, race or income level.

They also took into account whether the seniors might be taking immunosuppressive medications, have an immunosuppressive condition or have another illness that might make them more likely to get shingles. Immunosuppressive medications or conditions, or being "immuno-compromised," means a person's immune system is held back or is not as strong as a healthy person's.

The researchers found that only 3.9 percent of the seniors had received the shingles shot. Among black seniors, the percentage was far lower at 0.3 percent. Low income seniors were also less likely to have gotten the shot: only 0.6 percent of them received the vaccine.

Overall, 13,112 of the seniors, or 1.7 percent, developed shingles during the time period studied, from January 2007 to December 2009.

Among those who received the vaccine, 154 developed shingles, which meant a rate of 5.4 cases out of every 1,000 each year. Among unvaccinated seniors, 12,958 individuals got seniors, which translated to a rate of 10 cases out of every 1,000 each year.

In other words, the rate of shingles in unvaccinated seniors was about twice as high as in those who received the vaccine.

In addition, those who received the vaccine and did get shingles were less likely to develop post-herpetic neuralgia.

Overall, the researchers put the effectiveness of the shingles vaccine at 48 percent. For those who are immune-compromised, the vaccine's effectiveness was estimated at 37 percent.

Among those who were vaccinated and did get shingles, the vaccine was 59 to 62 percent effective at preventing the development of post-herpetic neuralgia when compared to those who were not vaccinated.

"This study shows that herpes zoster vaccination is associated with a reduction in post-herpetic neuralgia in routine clinical use," the researchers wrote. "As post-herpetic neuralgia is the major complication of herpes zoster and is associated with highly significant morbidity and adverse impacts on quality of life, substantial efforts are needed to increase vaccine use in routine care of elderly individuals."

The study was published April 9 in PLOS Medicine. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research at the UK Department of Health. One author has consulted for GlaxoSmithKline, and another author has served on data safety monitoring boards for Abbott and Astellas. The other authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 9, 2013
Last Updated:
August 14, 2013