Shingles, (herpes zoster), which occurs when the chickenpox virus (varicella zoster) reactivates itself, is often not much more than a nuisance--tingling, burning, itching and a rash. However, the older you are, the more likely you are to get post-herpetic pain, which in some people is untreatable. The shingles vaccine halves the chance of severe attacks of shingles, and a study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine has confirmed its safety.
As part of the U.S. Vaccine Safety Datalink project, researchers looked at 193,083 adults aged 50 and older who had been given a shingles shot. The team found a small risk of redness and pain at the injection site, but no increased risk of stroke, heart attack, meningitis, brain swelling, Ramsay-Hunt syndrome or Bell's palsy.
"It's good to know there is no serious adverse reaction to the zoster vaccine. The study supports the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices' recommendation and reassures the general public that the vaccine is safe," said study lead author Hung Fu Tseng, Ph.D., M.P.H., a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente.
Shingles affects more than a million people a year in the U.S. alone. As well as simply being painful and distressing, shingles can affect sight, hearing, and balance and lead to post-herpetic pain. These complications can cause depression and can have an impact on society by stopping people from working or carrying on with their caring responsibilities.
The vaccine has a major impact on the chance of developing the disease, but while Merck's ($MRK) Zostavax is approved in the U.S. in older adults, only 14.4% people of 60 and above had the vaccine in 2010. According to WebMD, this has less to do with concerns about the safety of the vaccine and more to do with the lack of reimbursement for people between 50 and 60, as well as the fact that the vaccine has to be kept in the freezer.