Shingles vaccine doesn't increase short term risk of developing shingles

A new study has recently shown that the live attenuated shingles or herpes zoster vaccine known as Zostavax does not appear to increase the short term risk of developing shingles in those taking medicine for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

The findings, presented at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting, used data from the U.S. Medicare program in 2006 through 2009 to identify and track nearly 7,000 patients with autoimmune disease that were over the age of 60 who had received the live zoster vaccine, according to

“The vaccine has been shown to be very effective to reduce the risk for shingles infection in older adults and is currently recommended for all older patients who are not receiving immunosuppressive medications,” Dr. Jeffrey Curtis, the study’s lead investigator, said, reports.

Shingles is essentially a re-activation of the same virus that causes the childhood illness chickenpox. Herpes zoster is capable of remaining dormant in the body from the time someone develops chickenpox and can remain until it manifests itself in the form of a painful, blistering rash later in adulthood. Shingles affects approximately one in 50 older people annually with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

“The concern for people who are taking immunosuppressive medications, such as patients with rheumatoid arthritis taking anti-TNF therapies is that since the vaccine contains a weakened version of the live virus, it could allow the virus to reactivate and cause a short-term increase in the risk for shingles infection – within six weeks of vaccination,” Curtis said, reports. “Beyond that initial time period, the vaccine would likely decrease the risk for shingles infection by helping the body form natural protective antibodies to prevent the infection.”