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Shingles and the Shingles Vaccine

Don't let the pain of shingles slow you down. Protect yourself with the free shingles vaccine. If you're between 65 and 70 years old, you can protect yourself with a free vaccine, saving you approximately $170.

Who is eligible to receive the publicly funded vaccine?

The Porcupine Health Unit recommends that all adults between 65-70 years old get the vaccine.

Where can I get the vaccine?

  • The vaccine is available through your primary health care provider or your local health unit office.
  • For non-eligible individuals, the vaccine can be purchased privately.

What is Shingles?

Shingles is a serious infection causing a painful rash with blisters and can have serious health effects for people over 65. Shingles is an infection that can be very serious. The virus causes a painful skin rash with blisters on one side of the body, often in a strip. It can cause complications like loss of vision (if infection is located on the face) and debilitating nerve pain (if infection is in any location). Shingles is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus, the same virus that causes chicken pox. Rarely, shingles can lead to complications such as pneumonia, hearing problems, blindness, brain inflammation or death.

Who is at risk of getting shingles?

The risk of shingles increases as individuals get older. In fact, about one in three Canadians will develop shingles in their lifetime and two out of three cases occur in individuals over 50 years of age. The severity of shingles and its complications increase with age. Individuals with weakened immune system are also at greater risk of getting shingles. People who develop shingles usually only have one episode in their lifetime, but it is possible to have recurring episodes.

The shingles vaccine can reduce your risk of getting shingles and the long-term pain it can cause.

Who should not receive the shingles vaccine?

Some people should not get the shingles vaccine:

  • Individuals with weakened immune systems due to: acute and chronic leukemias; lymphoma; other conditions affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system; or immunosuppression due to HIV/AIDS
  • Individuals on immunosuppressive therapy (including high-dose corticosteroids)
  • Individuals with a history of severe reaction after previous administration of the vaccine
  • Individuals with proven hypersensitivity to any component of the vaccine or its container, including gelatin or neomycin
  • Individuals with active untreated tuberculosis
  • Individuals who are pregnant

You should not get the vaccine if you currently have shingles. If you recently had shingles, you should wait at least one year before receiving the vaccine.

Is the shingles vaccine safe and effective?

The shingles vaccine is safe and effective for the prevention of shingles and its complications. Studies have shown that the vaccine reduced the risk of shingles by 51.3 percent and the risk of post-herpetic neuralgia (the most frequent complication of shingles) by 66.5 percent. The vaccine’s effectiveness decreases considerably after 70 years of age.

A vaccine, like any medicine, can cause side effects. Common side effects from the shingles vaccine are mild and can include pain, swelling or redness at the injection site. Other side effects may include a hard lump, itching, warmth, and bruising at the injection site, as well as headache and pain in an arm or leg. Severe reactions are rare.

When should I call my health care provider?

Call your health care provider or go to the nearest emergency department if any of the following reactions develop within three days of receiving the vaccine:

  • hives
  • swelling of the face or mouth
  • trouble breathing
  • very pale colour and serious drowsiness
  • high fever (over 40°C)
  • convulsions or seizures
  • other serious symptoms (e.g., “pins and needles” or numbness).

Where can I get more information?

For more information on the publicly funded shingles vaccine, or any vaccine within Ontario’s publicly funded immunization program, please visit: Ontario.ca/vaccines. You may also contact your health care provider or the Porcupine Health Unit.