What are the side effects of a shingles vaccine?
Shingles (herpes zoster) is a viral skin rash that, like chickenpox, results from the varicella-zoster virus. A vaccine is currently available and effective at preventing shingles.
The current FDA-approved shingles vaccine is called Shingrix. Previously, another vaccine called Zostavax was also available, but it was discontinued in the United States in 2020 after it was proven not to be as effective as Shingrix.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Shingrix side effects are often mild to moderate.
This article discusses the ingredients in the shingles vaccine, all known side effects, and when to talk with a health professional.
What are the side effects of a shingles vaccine?
As with most vaccines, side effects are possible after you are immunized for shingles. For most people, the vaccine’s benefits outweigh any side effects, which are often mild and short. In some cases, you may experience these effects more intensely.
How soon side effects start after the Shingrix vaccine may depend on different factors. Typically, these side effects appear within hours or days of receiving the vaccination. They resolve on their own within 2–5 days.
According to the Shingrix package insert, adverse reactions at the injection site are frequent, and the most common side effects of the shingles vaccine include:
- Pain: 78% of recipients
- Redness: 38% of recipients
- Swelling: 26% of recipients
You may reduce some of these side effects with over-the-counter pain relievers, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Alternatively, you may find relief by using a cooling pack, keeping your vaccinated arm still for a few days, and avoiding strenuous exercise and movements that aggravate the soreness.
Other mild side effects of Shingrix
You may also experience any of the following symptoms after getting the shingles vaccine:
- Headache: 38% of recipients
- Muscle soreness or pain: 45% of recipients
- Tiredness: 45% of recipients
- Shivering: 27% of recipients
- Mild fever: 21% of recipients
- Stomach upset: 17% of recipients
You can manage these side effects by taking over-the-counter pain relievers, resting, and staying hydrated.
Rare side effects
In rare cases, the shingles vaccine can lead to more severe side effects, such as:
- difficulty breathing
- fast heartbeat
- high fever
It’s best to contact a health professional if you experience any of these shingles vaccine side effects.
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What are the ingredients in a shingles vaccine?
Shingrix contains an inactive part of the varicella-zoster virus. It does not contain a live virus.
- Salts: Saline solution and sodium chloride help balance the vaccine’s pH, keep the ingredients together, and match the content’s salt level to your body’s.
- Fats: Cholesterol, monophosphoryl lipid A (MPL), and dioleoyl phosphatidylcholine (DOPC) are stabilizers to keep the vaccine functional during transport and storage.
- Sugars: Sucrose also works as a stabilizer.
- Other compounds: The vaccine contains QS-21, an organic component from the bark of the soap bark evergreen tree from Chile.
Who should and shouldn’t get the vaccine?
The Shingrix shingles vaccine is recommended for:
- people 50 years of age and older and who may have a higher chance of developing shingles
- adults over age 19 who may have a compromised immune system and have a higher chance of developing shingles
The vaccine is not recommended or effective for people who have chickenpox or shingles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established that the Shingrix vaccine is safe for most people, including those with compromised immune systems and who are pregnant or nursing.
People sensitive or allergic to one or more vaccine ingredients are advised against getting the vaccine.
When to contact a doctor
Consider reaching out to a medical professional if you are experiencing any shingle vaccine side effects and:
- home management does not offer relief
- symptoms do not improve or worsen after a few days
- new symptoms develop within a week of getting the vaccine
Call 911 immediately if you believe you’re having an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Possible symptoms of an allergy include:
- swelling in the face and throat shortly after receiving the vaccine
- shortness of breath
- rashes and hives
Only one shingles vaccine is currently available in the United States: Shingrix. It is considered safe and effective but may lead to some minor side effects.
Side effects of the Shingrix vaccine may include redness and pain at the injection site, fatigue, headaches, and fever.
In most people, the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk of these minor side effects.
More serious side effects of the Shingrix vaccine are rare but possible. These include hives, shortness of breath, and allergic reactions, and require immediate medical attention.
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- Shingles: Signs and symptoms. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html
- Shingles vaccination. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html
- Shingrix. (2021). https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/vaccines/shingrix
- Shingrix (zoster vaccine recombinant, adjuvanted), suspension for intramuscular injection. (2021). https://www.fda.gov/media/108597/download
- Shingrix recommendations. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/hcp/shingrix/recommendations.html
- Transmission. (2019). https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/transmission.html
- Vaccine ingredients. (2022). https://vk.ovg.ox.ac.uk/vaccine-ingredients