You can—and probably should—get the new shingles vaccine even if you’ve had the old one
By Katrina Caruso
Canadians over 50 years old are urged to consider receiving the most recent shingles vaccine, Shingrix, whether they’ve already received the previous vaccine, Zostavax, or not. Shingrix was released in Canada in early 2018.
Experts say the newer vaccine lasts longer and is 90% more effective. It has shown signs that it doesn’t get weaker as people age. On average, Zostavax is only 50% as effective, and its effectiveness tends to decrease after five years.
In a trial of 37,000 people, Shingrix was 97% effective for those aged 50 to 69—Zostavax was only 70% effective among those 50 to 59 and 64% effective among those 60 to 69. The difference was even more striking among those 70 or older: while Shingrix was 91% effective, Zostavax was only 41% effective in the 70–79 age group and its effectiveness dropped to 18% among those 80-plus.
The downsides to the new vaccine are that it involves two shots, two to six months apart, and it has been said to cause some muscle pain near the injection site. Some people have experienced headaches or fevers after receiving the vaccine, though these side effects subside. No long-term side effects have been reported.
It’s safe to get the new shot if you’ve already had a Zostavax shot, and in fact the double coverage provides extra protection. Doctors say it makes the most sense to get the Shingrix vaccine about four to five years after Zostavax.
Shingles is a painful skin rash that causes blisters on the skin, which can lead to scarring, long-term nerve pain, and even blindness, if the rash reaches the eyes. It’s caused by the same virus as chickenpox, and anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk. Seniors aged 70 or older are the most vulnerable, with those over 50 becoming increasingly vulnerable due to their immune system weakening over time.
Those who have had shingles already can also get the Shingrix vaccine to prevent the disease from recurring, according to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.