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Shingles vaccine

Date last reviewed: 
Monday, Dec 04, 2023


What is the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine, Shingrix®, protects against shingles, a painful rash caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox.

Who should get the shingles vaccine?

Shingrix® is recommended for adults 50 years of age and older. This includes those who:
  • Have had shingles. 
  • Received a live virus shingles vaccine. You should wait at least 1 year before getting Shingrix® if you received a live virus shingles vaccine. The live virus shingles vaccines are no longer available in Canada. 
  • Are not sure if they had chickenpox (varicella) infection in the past.
People 18 years of age and older with a weakened immune system can also get the vaccine.

How to get the shingles vaccine

You can buy the shingles vaccine at most pharmacies and travel clinics. The vaccine is given as a series of 2 doses, 2 to 6 months apart and costs about $160/dose. Some health insurance plans may cover the cost of the vaccine. Check with your provider. 

How well does the shingles vaccine work?

The shingles vaccine is the best way to protect you from getting shingles. The vaccine prevents more than 90% of cases of shingles in adults 50 years and older. In adults 18 years and older with a weakened immune system, the vaccine prevents about 70%-90% of cases of shingles.
For those who still get shingles after being immunized, the vaccine can reduce pain, including the type of pain that lasts after shingles.

What are the side effects of the shingles vaccine?

The shingles vaccine is very safe. Common side effects of the vaccine include soreness, redness and swelling where the vaccine was given. Other side effects include headache, fever, muscle soreness, fatigue, shivering, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is a rare condition that can result in weakness and paralysis of the body’s muscles. GBS may occur in about 3 in 1 million people who get the shingles vaccine.
It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This happens in less than 1 in a million people who get the vaccine. Symptoms may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips. If this reaction occurs, your health care provider is prepared to treat it. Emergency treatment includes administration of epinephrine (adrenaline) and transfer by ambulance to the nearest emergency department. If symptoms develop after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number.
It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Who should not get the shingles vaccine?

Speak with your health care provider if you: 
  • Have had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine or to any part of the vaccine.
  • Have shingles.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Have a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
There is no need to delay getting immunized because of a cold or other mild illness. However, if you have concerns, speak with your health care provider. 


About shingles

  • Shingles is a painful skin rash with blisters. It is caused by the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox. In some people who have had chickenpox, the virus becomes active again later in life and causes shingles.
  • About 1 out of 3 people who are unimmunized will get shingles in their lifetime.
  • Shingles is more common in people over 50 years of age and in those with weakened immune systems.
  • Shingles usually appears as a rash on one side of the face or body. The rash may last for 2 to 4 weeks. Before the rash appears, some people may experience pain, itching or tingling of the skin. Other early symptoms of shingles include fever, headache, nausea, and chills. The most common symptom of shingles is pain, which can be severe.
  • About 1 in 5 people who get shingles may have severe pain that lasts months to years after the rash has cleared. This is known as post-herpetic neuralgia.
  • Rare complications of shingles include pneumonia (infection of the lungs), loss of hearing or vision, scarring, inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or death.
  • You cannot get shingles from someone who has shingles. However, it is possible for someone who has not had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine to get chickenpox from someone with shingles. This is uncommon and requires direct contact with the fluid from the shingles blisters. For more information about chickenpox, read the HealthLinkBCFile: Facts About Chickenpox. For more information about the chickenpox vaccine, read the HealthLinkBC File: Chickenpox (varicella) vaccine. 


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