Preventing shingles is no longer a long shot for boomers and older adults. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new vaccine, Shingrix, which in clinical trials was more than 90 percent effective at warding off shingles.

Shingles is a debilitating disease, says internal medicine specialist Jennifer Carandang, MD. The same virus that causes chicken pox also causes shingles.

Shingles, which can lie dormant in your nerve endings for years, has these symptoms:

  • Tingling or burning pain that later develops into a red bumpy rash or painful blisters.
  • Searing nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), in about one in five people. PHN can last years and although it can be treated, it has no cure.
  • Pneumonia or blindness, although rare, can occur if shingles is close to the eyes.

Get the Vaccine

Even if you had the earlier vaccine, called Zostavax, you should get a Shingrix vaccine, Dr. Carandang says. Otherwise, you should receive the vaccine beginning at age 50, since the risk of getting the disease increases with age.

It's a two-part vaccine, with the second part given anywhere from two to six months after the first.

Among the reasons Dr. Carandang recommends getting the Shingrix vaccine now:

  1. It’s 20 percent more effective than Zostavax, which reduced the chance of getting shingles by about 70 percent.
  2. It lasts longer than the earlier shingles vaccine and boosts your immune system.
  3. It can prevent you from having a repeat shingles outbreak if you had the disease before.

Side Effects

The most common side effect of the vaccination is pain at injection site and a mild fever or headache, Dr. Carandang says.

If you have an impaired immune system or take moderate to high doses of medications that suppress your immune system, you'll need to talk to your doctor first to see if you should receive the vaccine.

Also, check with your health care provider if you have never had chicken pox or have a severe allergic reaction to other vaccines.

Jennifer Carandang, MD is an internal medicine specialist at University Hospitals Avon Family Practice

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