So should you get a shingles vaccine?

The debate about shingles vaccines has just been re-ignited with a study that compared 23,000 people who got shingles with 23,000 who didn’t.

And the study concluded that those people who did get shingles were significantly more likely to develop a stroke, heart attack, or another heart problem.

This risk was highest for the first year following the shingles and dropped steadily afterwards.

Curiously, the younger the patient – especially those under 40 who got shingles – the higher their risk of these problems.

Clearly, this study points to the wisdom of getting a shingles vaccine.

Lots of wrinkles in this study, however.

For one, the shingles vaccine’s effectiveness seems to drop off with time (after 5 years) in many people so to hold on to the benefits of the vaccine, it’s likely that a lot of people would need re-vaccination, something that’s not currently standard practice.

This is made even more complicated with a recently-developed newer shingles vaccine that is supposed to be on the market in the near future and which will clearly compete with the one that’s already out there.

Also, the vaccine is still not recommended for younger people (under 60), that is, precisely for those people who seem to have the highest level for potential cardiovascular complications from a bout of shingles.

Third, with the widespread use of chicken pox vaccine, it’s thought that there will be a huge fall in eventual shingles cases (which are merely re-activation of old chicken pox infections). We can only hope.

As someone who had shingles despite getting the vaccine (it’s only about 50 % or so effective at preventing a bout of shingles), I can only say that I’d never like to re-visit that problem (even if it doesn’t cause a stroke or heart attack) because the pain was terribly unpleasant for several weeks.

My post-shingles pain only lasted 5-6 weeks, perhaps because of the vaccine which is said to be 67 % effective at preventing post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), that dreaded complication (higher in seniors) which can produce debilitating pain that lasts months and even years (Despite the potential threat to the heart, preventing PHN is to my mind still the most important reason to get a shingles vaccine).

Bottom line: I got the vaccine, still got shingles, had lots of very uncomfortable pain, but didn’t get PHN.

So I am very much in favour of the vaccine.

You have to make up your own mind about it, however.