Zostavax—Introduction, Facts, and Fiction about the Vaccine

Zostavax is a live zoster vaccine that is used to provide protection against the virus that causes herpes zoster disease, better known as shingles.

 

In children, the varicella virus is the causative agent of chicken pox. When this varicella virus is activated in an adult, it causes shingles or herpes zoster. This activation of the virus, leading to the disease, can be prevented by getting a zostavax shot that contains a live but weakened virus that boosts the production of antibodies to provide immunity against the disease. Zostavax, however, does not treat the disease itself, but rather is a vaccine against it.

 

The vaccine is usually intended for those who are aged 50 years and older.

 

Who should get zostavax?

  • Individuals who are 60 years of age and older are recommended to receive a dose of the herpes zoster vaccine zostavax
  • This vaccine has no booster dose and is only given once. It is more effective when given to those just crossing the 60-year age limit, and its effectiveness is reduced in those aged 69 years and older
  • Irrespective of the patient’s previous history of herpes zoster virus, a single dose of the vaccine is recommended

 

 

When should you not get the vaccine and why?

  • If someone has a mild case of cold, they can still receive vaccination.
  • However, the vaccine cannot be given to individuals in the following situations:
    • Individuals who are suffering from cancer that affects the bone marrow, such as leukemia and lymphoma
    • Individuals who have tuberculosis that is untreated
    • Individuals receiving chemotherapy or steroid medication that weakens the immune system or those who have immune system disorders such as AIDS or HIV
    • Individuals who are pregnant or under 19 years of age

Before getting the vaccine, it is recommended that the patient inform the doctor whether there is a previous history of chicken pox or of allergic reactions to vaccines, or if a live vaccine has been administered within the previous four weeks.

 

How is the vaccine administered?

Zostavax is given to individuals via an injection subcutaneously, that is, under the skin in the deltoid region. The vaccine is not to be given intramuscularly or intravenously. Also, in the majority of cases the vaccine is only given once and boosters are not suggested. In fact, booster doses of zostavax have not been evaluated or tested.

 

Facts about the zostavax vaccine

If you have previously suffered from shingles or think you may have had chicken pox, you can still take the zostavax dose to protect against the chances of it occurring in the future. A specific time limit after having shingles during which to receive the vaccine is not specified, but usually it is safe to wait for the rashes to disappear before getting vaccinated.

 

Myths about shingles and zostavax

  • It is a myth that only elderly people can get the disease; shingles can be contracted by individuals of any age.
  • The zostavax vaccine does not completely negate the chances of contracting the disease but significantly reduces the chances.
  • Having had chicken pox previously does not reduce the chances of shingles. Also, if you have never had chicken pox but have been exposed to the varicella vaccine, the virus is present in your body and can at an older age become activated to cause shingles.