Zostavax, the Shingles Vaccine

A Hopkins Health Watch Q&A

zostavax shingles vaccineQ: I have a question about the new shingles vaccine, Zostavax. Since vaccines are in the news and more of us aging women are being recommended to receive this vaccine, I am curious to know your view. Is this a highly rated and useful vaccine, based on the fact that 50% of folks suffer from shingles before reaching age 80?


A: Shingles is a very painful revisiting of chickenpox. If you’ve had chickenpox, you can get shingles. The vaccine does not treat an active case of shingles, or the nerve pain that can follow an outbreak if you already have it.

Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says about the effectiveness of this vaccine:

“In a clinical trial involving thousands of adults 60 years old or older, Zostavax reduced the risk of shingles by about half (51%) and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia by 67%. While the vaccine was most effective in people 60 to 69 years old, it also provided some protection for older groups.”

Zostavax contains a live chickenpox virus, and people who get it are advised not to be around “…newborn infants, someone who may be pregnant and has not had chickenpox or been vaccinated against chickenpox, or someone who has problems with their immune system.”

Serious Adverse Reactions to Zostavax

According to Merck, the maker of Zostavax, “Serious vaccine-related adverse reactions that have occurred following vaccination with Zostavax include asthma exacerbation and polymyalgia rheumatica [An inflammatory disorder that causes widespread muscle aching and stiffness, primarily in your neck, shoulders, upper arms, thighs and hips, that can last months or even years.] Other serious adverse events reported following vaccination with Zostavax include cardiovascular events (congestive heart failure, pulmonary edema).”

The Zostavax vaccine can also cause shingles.

Notice the CDC says that the vaccine is effective for about half the population age 60 to 69, but only provides “some protection” for older groups. As we get older, it’s more difficult for our immune systems to mount an antibody response in response to a vaccine. That’s why the flu shot isn’t very effective for senior citizens.

Here’s where you can find Merck’s abbreviated Prescribing Information on Zostavax.

Government Approval of a Vaccine is No Guarantee of Safety

The U.S. government regulatory agencies, such as the FDA and CDC, that are supposed to protect Americans from being harmed by bad medicine, are now, in effect, being controlled and run by Big Pharma. Therefore, we cannot trust their decisions about which drugs are safe and effective, and in particular we can’t trust their judgments about vaccines. A perfect case in point is the vaccine-autism link, which is eloquently revealed by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in this video, Robert Kennedy on the on the Vaccine Autism Coverup, or if you prefer the written word, Tobacco Science and the Thimerosol Scandal, a 66-page document that gives dozens of references.

Until the government cleans up its regulatory act and gets the foxes out of the hen houses, the best chance Americans have to stay healthy is to avoid prescription drugs and vaccines whenever possible.

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