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Shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine

The zoster vaccine helps to protect you against shingles (herpes zoster).

Shingles is a localised, painful vesicular rash which may follow a headache, tiredness and itching or tingling in the affected area, and is a reactivation in the body of the same virus that caused chickenpox earlier in life. Shingles can affect any part of the body, such as the trunk or face, occurring along the spinal nerve pathways. It usually lasts 10-15 days.

Shingles can lead to post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) which is persistent pain lasting longer than 3 months. Depending on the area affected, the following may occur, especially with increasing age:

  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Secondary bacterial skin infection
  • Pneumonia.

The vaccine contains a small amount of the live virus.

Some people may not be able to receive a live vaccine for medical reasons, please discuss with your doctor or immunisation provider for further information.

Vaccine recommendations

The zoster vaccine (Zostavax ®) is free for people aged 70 years of age as part of the National Immunisation Program.

From 1 November 2016, a free five year catch-up program was commenced for those people aged 71-79 years.

Zostavax ® is only registered for use in adults 50 years of age and older who have not previously received a dose of zoster vaccine. Speak to your doctor for further information on receiving this vaccine if you are aged 50-69 years of age.

How the vaccine is given

Zoster vaccine is given as an injection into the top of the arm.

Possible side effects

Like any medications, the zoster vaccine can have some minor and short lasting side effects.

Common

  • Pain, redness ,swelling or itch at injection site
  • Headache
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Fever (temperature)

Rare or very Rare other side effects may include: 

  • Chickenpox type rash
  • Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

If you are concerned or worried, seek further advice from your doctor, immunisation provider, SA Health’s Immunisation Section or healthdirect Australia.

Any unexpected event following immunisation should be reported to SA Health.

Reducing the side effects

Many of the common side effects can be reduced by:

  • drinking extra fluids
  • resting
  • taking paracetamol as per the instructions on the packet
  • not overdressing if you are hot.

Speak to your local pharmacist about suitable lotions you can purchase to reduce the itchiness of the rash.

Where to get immunised

To receive the vaccine, speak with your doctor or immunisation provider. 

For further information on immunisation providers, see the Immunisation services page.

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