The VA Shingles Vaccine – What Veterans Should Know

Updated: November 9, 2022

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    Shingles is a common – but painful – rash caused by the same virus that also ignites chicken pox, according to the American Medical Association. Shingles, known as the herpes zoster virus, most often occurs in people aged 50 or older who have previously contracted chicken pox. Medicine does not completely understand why chicken pox reactivates as shingles. But for one in three adults, it is a risk.

    Both the AMA and the VA recommend that veterans over the age of 50 get a vaccine, a proven, safe medical procedure. Shingles prevention is much more effective than treating an outbreak.

    Shingles is painful and temporarily disfiguring. Shingles outbreaks can last up to five weeks, and it’s possible to contract shingles more than once.

    Symptoms of shingles include:

    • Rash on one side of the body or the face
    • Blisters that develop in the rash site and then crust over
    • Tingling pain that can occur before the rash appears.
    • Fever, headache, fatigue and chills may occur.

    Shingles vaccination prevention is the best course of action to avoid a prolonged illness, including long-term nerve damage.

    “The pain from shingles has been compared to childbirth or passing a kidney stone,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. “It can last for months or years after the rash goes away. A shingles vaccine can help prevent shingles and the complications from the disease.”

    Does the VA Offer the Shingles Vaccine?

    The VA provides shingles shots for veterans, according to the VA vaccinations guide.

    The VA administers the Shingrix vaccination, which is recommended for patients who may have been previously inoculated with older treatments, such as Zostavax.

    The VA recommends that even healthy adults receive a shingles vaccination. Remember, you will need two doses of the shingles vaccine, spaced two to six months apart.

    Who is Eligible for a Shingles Vaccine Through the Department of Veterans Affairs?

    Veterans who meet medical criteria and are at least 50 years old can receive the shingles vaccine at the VA if they are eligible for and enrolled in VA health care.

    Check with your VA health care team for details and to schedule an appointment.

    Which Shingles Vaccine Does the VA Use?

    The VA administers the Shingrix vaccination which has been proven to be extremely effective at preventing shingles outbreaks, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

    Specifically, the CDC found that:

    • In adults 50 to 69 years old with healthy immune systems, Shingrix was 97% effective in preventing shingles; in adults 70 years and older, Shingrix was 91% effective.
    • In adults 50 years and older, Shingrix was 91% effective in preventing PHN (long term nerve damage); in adults 70 years and older, Shingrix was 89% effective.
    • In adults with weakened immune systems, Shingrix was between 68% and 91% effective in preventing shingles, depending on their underlying immunocompromising condition.

    Who Should Get the Shingles Vaccine?

    Any veteran who meets the age coverage limit (at least 50) is eligible to receive a shingles vaccination. However, the VA does follow CDC treatment guidelines, which state 50 or older. Be aware that protocols might differ at your local VA depending upon vaccine availability and other factors, so ask your primary care provider team.

    According to CDC guidelines:

    • There is no maximum age for getting a shingles vaccination.
    • You can get Shingrix whether or not you remember having had chickenpox in the past. More than 99% of Americans born on or before 1980 have had chicken pox, even if they don’t remember having the disease.

    Adults with weakened immune systems and no documented history of chicken pox disease, chickenpox vaccination, or shingles should talk to their healthcare provider.

    Pregnant patients or patients with active cases of shingles are not eligible to receive the Shingrix vaccination.

    How Much Does the Shingles Vaccine Cost at the VA?

    The VA provides health care for preventative disease control to avoid infectious diseases to veterans for free. Shingles, flu and Covid-19 vaccinations are all free. However, if you have questions, check with the VA to confirm your coverage level.

    Where to Get Vaccinated for Shingles Through the VA

    Shingles vaccinations for veterans are readily available at any VA medical center, but you will probably need an appointment. Also, Walgreens is a VA partner. The retail pharmacy chain has more than 9,000 convenient walk-in locations that veterans can visit without an appointment.

    However, vaccine inventory availability can fluctuate, so consider calling ahead.

    Is the Shingles Vaccine Safe?

    The shingles vaccine offers proven disease control and safety. the VA cites the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines in determining the safety and efficacy of the Shingrix vaccination.

    You may experience these side effects after receiving your Shingrix shot:

    • Sore arm
    • Redness and swelling at the injection site (wider than four inches for some people).
    • Tiredness, muscle pain, headache, shivering, fever, stomach pain, or nausea.

    According to the CDC, for every one million doses, only one or two patients have developed allergic symptoms to the Shingrix vaccine. No observable adverse effects occurred during Shingrix clinical trials, although the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2021 for an association with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a nerve disorder.

    About one in six people who got Shingrix experienced side effects that temporarily prevented them from doing regular activities like yard work or swimming.

    Fortunately, the vaccine’s side effects are short-term and usually dissipate within two to three days, and are preferable to the effects of an active shingles infection – which can sometimes last a lifetime.

    According to the National Institute on Aging, in rare cases, shingles infection has been associated with eyesight and hearing loss, as well as life-threatening brain swelling (encephalitis).

    While your doctor can treat shingles to minimize the symptoms, vaccination prevention is the most effective course of action.

    More Information and Resources on Vaccines and Immunizations at VA

    The national VA hotline can be reached at 1-800-698-2411. A Frequently Asked Questions link can be accessed at: https://www.va.gov/resources/.

    Written by John W. Mitchell

    John Mitchell is a contributing writer for Veteran.com. He is a United States Navy veteran and a widely published freelance writer covering military affairs, health care, social services and craft beer through his firm, SnowPack Public Relations. He’s also a novelist under the pen name of J. Willis Mitchell. His most recent novel, “Rotors” has just been published. His first novel “Medical Necessity” has a four-star rating on Amazon. Mitchell lives with his wife and writes on the western slope of Colorado. He volunteers each winter as an adaptive downhill ski instructor teaching the joy of the sport to kids, veterans and other skiers living with disabilities.