Zostavax is the brand name of a vaccine used to prevent herpes zoster, also called shingles, in adults ages 50 and older, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that this single-dose Zostavax vaccine is generally given only once and usually provides lifetime protection against the shingles virus. Zostavax works by stimulating the body’s own natural immunities against the herpes zoster virus, preventing the virus from taking hold and producing symptoms.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash that typically erupts on one side of the body or face, usually arranged in a single stripe, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In less common cases, it may also have a chicken-pox appearance and appear all over the body. The rash usually clears up in a few weeks or months.

Shingles is very common, especially in older adults. The National Institutes of Health estimates that one in three adults over age 60 will develop shingles at some point, and half of all Americans will have had shingles by age 80.

Shingles is caused by the chicken pox virus (herpes varicella-zoster), which remains dormant in your body after you recover from chicken pox but can become active again, the CDC reports.

Can the Zostavax vaccine prevent shingles?

Zostavax reduces the risk of developing shingles by 51%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who should get the Zostavax vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people age 60 and older should get a shingles vaccine like Zostavax. There is no maximum age for getting the shingles vaccine. You can get the Zostavax vaccine whether or not you recall having had chickenpox, since most Americans over age 40 have had chickenpox even if they don’t remember.

You can also get Zostavax even if you already had shingles, to prevent future infections.

Is the Zostavax vaccine safe?

According to the NIH, most people don’t encounter serious or significant side effects from Zostavax. Some people get headaches, and some have redness, itching, or swelling at the injection site.

Would you like to learn more about the Zostavax shot and other preventive services under Medicare?

You can learn more about Medicare coverage of the Zostavax shot.

For more information:

About Shingles,” National Institutes of Health Senior Health (NIH Senior Health), 2015.