Q. I heard that people should not get the shingles vaccine if they never had chickenpox. Would it give them chickenpox?
A. No. Even if they don’t remember having had chickenpox, they should still get the shingles vaccine—it wouldn’t give them chickenpox. There’s a new and improved shingles vaccine (Shingrix), which is approved for people ages 50 and over, even for those who received thefirst shingles vaccine (Zostavax). The CDC says that doctors need not ask patients if they ever had chickenpox (or test for antibodies to it) before giving them the shingles vaccine.
The same virus, varicella-zoster, causes both chickenpox and shingles. After you have chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in nerve tissue, and if it reactivates, it causes shingles—a blistering rash, usually on the torso, that causes pain for weeks or months.
Though people can’t get shingles unless they had chickenpox, it’s safe to assume that almost all older adults had chickenpox. According to the CDC, “Studies show that more than 99% of Americans 40 years and older have had chickenpox, even if they don’t remember having the disease.” The shingles vaccine is a much stronger version of the chickenpox vaccine given to kids, so it would also protect against chickenpox.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see Another Reason to Get the Shingles Shot (hint: it may reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes).