Shingles Vaccine Side Effects
Shingles and chickenpox are severe side effects of the shingles vaccine. The live virus in the vaccine Zostavax® can potentially cause deadly infections or spread to other people from a contagious chickenpox-like skin rash.
What is Zostavax?
Zostavax® was sold in the U.S. from 2006 through November 2020, when it was pulled off the market. It is a live attenuated vaccine made by Merck & Co. that contains a weakened varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.
Over 90% of adults in the U.S. are infected with the varicella virus as a result of having chickenpox in childhood, and about 30% develop shingles (herpes zoster) when the virus re-activates in adulthood. Zostavax contains about 14X more virus than the chickenpox vaccine Varivax® for children.
How is the shingles vaccine given?
The shingles vaccine is given as a shot (injection) of the deltoid muscle of the upper arm.
Can Zostavax cause shingles?
Yes. Shingles is a side effect of Zostavax that Merck & Co. added to the label at the request of the FDA in August 2014. The FDA also strengthened warnings about serious “infections and infestations” with the virus in the vaccine.
In Australia, safety officials have reported the death of sick patients who were given Zostavax and warned that it should not be given to patients with compromised immune systems due to the risk of death from serious infections with the vaccine virus.
What are common side effects of Zostavax?
About 1 in 3 people suffer injection suffer redness, soreness, swelling, or itching at the site of the injection. About 1 in 70 people experience a headache.
Some people who get the shingles vaccine develop a chickenpox-like rash near the place where they were vaccinated. This rash is potentially contagious and it should be covered to avoid transmission of the varicella zoster virus to young children, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems.
The most common side effects of the shingles vaccine include:
- Injection-site reactions (pain, redness, itching, swelling, warmth, bruising, hard lump, or warmth)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Skin rash (may be contagious)
What are severe side effects of Zostavax?
- Serious neurological diseases or disorders, including brain inflammation (encephalitis)
- Herpetic Neuralgia (disorder in the nerves)
- Postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN (pain continuing after shingles blister subside)
- Myelitis (spinal cord inflammation)
- Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis)
- Vision problems, including: blindness, eye infections, and retinal damage (necrotizing retinitis)
- Hearing loss
What other side effects have been reported?
The following is a list of post-marketing adverse event reports associated with Zostavax, but it is unknown if they were caused by the shingles vaccine:
- Arthralgia (joint pain)
- Anaphylactic reactions
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Herpes zoster (vaccine strain)
- Hypersensitivity reactions
- Injection-site rash, hives
- Muscle aches (myalgia)
- Necrotizing retinitis (patients on immunosuppressive therapy)
- Shingles infection from vaccine virus
- Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA)