It’s that time of the year again – cold and flu season! Many people are preparing by getting their flu shots and stocking up on vitamin C. You may have noticed that your doctor is also recommending the shingles vaccine if you are over the age of 60. Although the vaccine is approved for those 50 and older, the CDC recommends getting it at 60.

But what if you’ve already had the shingles virus? Or perhaps you have concerns over the side effects of the vaccine. We address these questions in the sections below.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a painful skin rash that is caused by the same virus as the chickenpox. It typically appears as a band or strip on one side of the body or face.

The virus works in stages, so you might start with a headache or feel like you’re getting the flu. Later, you might feel itchy and tingly, and then a rash will form. The rash can then turn blistery and painful, and the associated nerve pain can continue for weeks or months.

If you’ve had the chickenpox, the shingles virus is in you. It lies dormant in your nerve roots but can act up at any time, typically when your body goes through something traumatic such as a disease, injury or weakened immune system. This prompts the virus to “wake up” and cause symptoms.

Why Get the Shingles Vaccine?

The shingles vaccine can cut your chances of developing shingles by about half.

The vaccine contains a weakened chickenpox virus that prompts your immune system to defend itself from the disease. It is possible to still get shingles even with the shot. But, the reaction should be far less painful and severe and have shorter periods of nerve pain.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Get the Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that people 60 and older get the shot, as shingles is most common in older adults. If you’ve already had shingles, it’s still recommended that you are vaccinated. Shingles can occur more than once.

Some people are not good candidates for the vaccine, such as those who:

  • Have a weakened immune system.
  • Are receiving cancer treatment.
  • Have had cancer in their bone marrow.
  • Have active tuberculosis.
  • Are allergic to gelatin or the antibiotic neomycin.
  • Are pregnant.

What are the Side Effects?

Side effects include redness, soreness, swelling or itching at the site of the shot. It’s also possible for headaches to occur.

Is the Vaccine Covered?

The shingles vaccine is covered by Medicare Part D. You can also check with your private health insurance, as some will pay for it after the age of 50.

Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should get the shingles vaccine.