What's the Straight Dope on Shingles Vaccination?

My doctor has recently advised me to get a vaccination against Shingles. I’m 55, male, white and don’t have any family history, (though I understand it’s a viral condition, not hereditary.) I had chicken pox when I was very young. My doctor’s concern is the neural damage that it often causes and I usually take my doctor’s advice. The downside is that it’s rather expensive and not covered by my employer’s health insurance, so I’d be five or six hundred dollars out of pocket. I’m unsure if it’s worth that to me. I think this has a factual answer. How likely is my contracting this, are there any potential side effects of the vaccine, how likely is the nerve damage if I do get the virus?

MODs, if you decide this needs to go into IMHO, that’s fine with me and I apologize for starting in the wrong forum. I have looked on WebMD but don’t understand a lot of what I found there.

Are you sure about that price? I seem to recall paying about $220 for mine. Believe me, you do NOT want to have shingles. My sister was on heavy duty painkillers for hers and still wanted to just slit her wrists. Yeah, it’s that painful. I put it off until about age 60, but you’re taking a risk, especially if you’re in contact with the public.

Fight my ignorance here: Does the shingles vaccination offer protection to those who have had chicken pox? My understanding is that the virus is still in the host, just dormant…maybe the vaccine revs up the immune system so the virus can’t go active again?

Kevbo, who had chicken pox along with the rest of his first grade.

Here’s the CDC site on it, and here’s the page there you might want to check out.

Bottom line is that if you are over 60 you should get it. That’s it. Doesn’t matter if you recall having chicken pox or not (or shingles or not). The vaccine is effective and safe. Shingles is bad news, trust me. The pain can be relentless and excruciating and some of my patients were seriously considering suicide to escape it.

ETA - since people younger than 60 rarely get shingles, you can wait until you’re 60. Getting it earlier in life doesn’t really serve any purpose and conceivably may make it more likely to wane in effectiveness by the time your risk for shingles becomes significant (i.e. at age 60 or above).

The price at Walgreens is $219.99 per dose. (Price may vary. Consult your pharmacist.) Call around other pharmacies to find out what they charge, too. The charge at doctors’ offices and hospitals will usually be higher, especially if you are uninsured.

But, have you checked recently on whether your insurance will cover the vaccination? The Affordable Care Act recently required a lot of preventive services, including many vaccines, to be be covered, although there are some exceptions for grandfathered plans.

I’ll go a step further. If you did have chicken pox then you already have the virus. Period. No chance of catching it because it’s inside you right now. And at some point in your life, for reasons that are not clearly understood, it can re-activate and cause shingles. Last winter, I happened to mention to my wife that my skin on one side of my chest seemed to be strangely sensitive. She said, “Shingles.” Don’t know why she knew that. The next morning, I saw my doctor, who pointed out that I was already developing a rash and who put me on steroids and anti-virals right away. By stepping on it in the first 12-24 hours, I avoided what a lot of people say is the worst set of symptoms you can endure. My case got somewhat worse, but nowhere near as bad as the horror stories you will hear. I will now be immune for a few years but when that time is up, I’m taking the shot, and I don’t care how much it costs. You should, too. Believe me, if you don’t, and you develop this condition, you’ll curse your frugal ways. xo,
p.s. Even now, without even having developed a full-blown case, I sometimes have a really unpleasant and uncomfortable bout of sensitive skin on my back, a week or two at a time, which is some residual effect of the condition.

Wow. I love this place. Thanks for the quick responses. Especially those Web pages KarlGauss. It sounds like I may be able to wait a couple of years, perhaps my insurance will start covering part of the cost before I’m 60. That’s what my Doctor said the vaccine runs for and he knows my insurance provider. I remember I paid over $500 to get a colonoscopy when I was 51 and now they are fully covered for one every 10 years.

Yah, I know our insurance is one of the ‘grandfathered’ ones. Because of that they have some things they have to do that the new ones don’t, plus some things they don’t have to do that the new ones do. I think I’ll go ahead and get the shot when I’m in there in July. Sounds like a definite ‘better safe than sorry’ situation. I have enough chronic pains as it is.

What CC said is spot on. You already have the virus. The vaccine boosts your immunity so the virus doesn’t become active again. I’ll also add that the nerve pain associated with shingles doesn’t necessarily go away when the rash resolves. You can be left with severe pain for the rest of your life.

If you decide not to get the vaccine, at least read up on the early symptoms of shingles (hypersensitivity, rash along a dermatome). If you start having those symptoms, go to your doctor straight away. Anti-virals can prevent a full on episode, but they have to be given in the first 24 hrs. So you need to be talking to a doctor before you really start feeling bad.

This was close to the price quoted by my local pharmacy (Fred Meyer) - but as noted, thanks to the ACA my insurance covered it all. (and this is high deductible private insurance with no drug plan, normally I pay everything up to $3500.)

My wife had to pay $58 with her crappy employer insurance.

This bears repeating - even after the acute shingles episode has resolved, you are at risk for ongoing and severe pain (called posherpetic neuralgia).

Postherpetic neuralgia link #1

Postherpetic neuralgia link #2 (Wiki)

In my earlier post, I made a statement that is confusing if not wrong. Although shingles is uncommon in people younger than 60, the risk of postherpetic neuralgia is very low in such young people. OTOH, after age 60, shingles results in postherpetic neuralgia in at least 20 to 30 percent of patients. And, it is that, prevention of postherpetic neuraligia, which in my estimation at least, justifies using the vaccine routinely in the over 60 age group.

I’ve had shingles. If I could have paid $500 to not have had it, I would. It was a week of hell, plus lingering symptoms for at least half a year afterwards.

My father said his bout with the shingles hurt worse than the ruptured appendix+peritonitis he had in high school. And the pain went on for weeks.

My spouse had shingles and got to the doctor within the first 24-36 hours for anti-virals and painkillers. Severe pain for weeks.

Mind you, neither of those were severe cases. There are people who have it a LOT worse.

If I could pay $500 to never have to go through the pain those two loved ones did I’d gladly pay it.


Anyone know if the shingles vaccine is the “chicken pox vaccine”? As in, is it the same stuff in the bottle, at the same dose? I’m shocked at the price, and wonder if it’s being subsidized at that same price per dose for all the kiddos getting the chicken pox vaccine.

I guess, having always had insurance which covered routine childhood vaccinations, and there being so many free or low cost childhood vaccination clinics, I really have no idea what mostvaccines cost out of pocket…

Yes, it is. But, in the shingles vaccine the ‘active ingredient’ is present in an amount 14 times that of the chickenpox vaccine.

(Does the chicken pox vaccine cost only 1/14 that of the shingles vaccine? ;))

Huh. Doing a little googling…no. Looks like the chicken pox vaccine runs $80-120 without insurance/low-cost clinic rates. So only about 1/3-1/2 what the shingles vaccine costs. Yikes!

So…I suppose one couldn’t ethically dilute a single shingles shot into 14 children’s chicken pox shots to save money, huh? :smiley:

Zostavax [the shingles vaccine] " is simply a larger-than-normal dose of Varivax [the smallpox vaccine], and is used to reduce the risk of shingles"[

Or else make sure you take > 3 servings/day of fresh fruit, vegetables and vitamins. A study claiimed that this cuts your risk to 1/3rd

Am I reading that link right? - the UK feels that adults dont need to be vaccinated in general since by hanging around with children who have chickenpox, it boosts their immunity to it. Should Satchmo immediately volunteer at the children’s ward in his local hospital? Surely, that cant be wise ?

Thanks for the facts everyone. I’ll call the insurance folks Monday and find out if any of it’s covered and get the shot as soon as I can get into the Doc’s.