Shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine

What is it for?

This vaccine protects you from getting shingles.

You can only develop shingles if you have already had chickenpox

If you’ve had chickenpox, the virus (varicella zoster) can remain in the nerve cells of your body and may remain inactive with no symptoms for years. Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is caused when the chickenpox virus is reactivated later on, often in adult life.

If you have shingles you will get a rash with blisters that contain the virus. The rash is slightly different from chickenpox because it usually appears on only one side of your body, usually around your back, waist and stomach, but it can also appear on your face and neck. The rash usually tingles and feels painful. Between 25% and 50% of people aged 50 years or older who get shingles will have ongoing nerve pain in the place where the rash appeared (this condition is called post-herpetic neuralgia).

The chickenpox virus can be spread if you come into direct contact with the virus-containing blisters on the skin of someone with shingles. If you are not immune, you can catch chickenpox this way.

For more information, read the NSW Department of Health factsheet on chickenpox and shingles.

Who should be vaccinated?

If you’ve already had chickenpox, you can develop shingles at any age. You are more likely to develop shingles if:

  • you are older than 60 years
  • you had chickenpox before 1 year of age
  • your immune system is weakened by a medical condition or medicines you are taking to suppress your immune system (e.g. after an organ transplant).

The shingles vaccine is recommended for preventing shingles in people who have had chickenpox in the past and who are 60 years or older and generally healthy.

The shingles vaccine will not usually be given to adults who:

  • have had the chickenpox vaccine
  • are younger than 50 years old
  • are taking high doses of medicines that weaken their immune system
  • have a severe condition that weakens their immune system (such as HIV) and who are more susceptible to infection.

If you’ve already been vaccinated with the chicken pox vaccine, you won’t need to have the shingles vaccination. If you are unsure whether you have had chickenpox, or the chickenpox vaccination, ask your doctor for advice.

Pregnant women

If you’ve already been vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine, you won’t need to have the shingles vaccination.

If you get shingles when you are pregnant, it will not harm your unborn baby. You can only get shingles if you have already had chickenpox, so you will already have the virus in your body. The virus can remain inactive with no symptoms for years. There is no increased risk of passing the virus on to your baby.

Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.

Women who are breastfeeding

If you’ve already been vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine, you won’t need to have the shingles vaccination.

In general, there is no known risk to your baby if you are vaccinated with any vaccine — except the yellow fever vaccine — while you are breastfeeding.

If you have shingles when you are breastfeeding, your baby can’t be infected with the chickenpox virus through your breast milk. However, if you still have blisters on your skin, it is possible your baby could develop chickenpox if they come into direct contact with your shingles blisters. If you have shingles, it is best to avoid direct contact with babies and young children who have never had chickenpox or who have not yet been vaccinated.

If your child has not been vaccinated, but has been exposed to the chickenpox virus by direct contact with you or someone else who has chickenpox or shingles blisters, seek medical advice as soon as possible.

Side effects

Common* side effects of the shingles vaccine include:

  • headache
  • redness, pain and swelling at the injection site
  • itching at the injection site.

Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.

*Common: 1 to 10 in every 100 people will experience these side effects.

Who can I ask about side effects?

If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).


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