The shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine

shingles herpes zosterA painful but common condition in older adults is shingles or herpes zoster. I’ve known several elderly people afflicted with this, and I will absolutely get the vaccine as soon as I turn 60!

The vaccine, Zostavax, is FDA-approved for ages 50 and up, but the Cleveland Clinic recently advised that it’s not cost effective for anyone under 60 to get immunized.

Why? Because Zostavax is too expensive. On average, it costs about $200, and that doesn’t include the cost for the office visit or vaccine administration that some clinics charge.

The vaccine is effective for 10-12 years, so if you get it around age 50, you will need to get it again at age 60. Risk increases with age.

And there is some confusion about which vaccines for adults are paid for and by whom.

I have friends who think all vaccines are now covered at no cost because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But that’s not quite true.

Vaccines are covered only if they are recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). And ACIP doesn’t advise the shingles vaccine for anyone under age 60.

So if you are 50-59 and want to be vaccinated for shingles, you would have to pay out of pocket, or at least check with your insurance company first. Some insurance companies may cover it, but don’t assume!

If you have Medicare, Zostavax is covered by Medicare Part D, rather than Part B as are other vaccinations. Some Part D plans require co-pays.

The pharmaceutical company that makes Zostavax, Merck, heavily markets the vaccine with television commercials and prints ads. Not surprisingly, these ads emphasize the pain and misery of shingles.

Shingles is miserable and the vaccine is effective. Just be aware that if you are under 60, you will probably have to pay for it yourself.

And since risk increases with age, waiting until 60 is not inappropriate.

Related post: Adults need immunizations, too!


Frugal Nurse

Image: “Herpes zoster back” by Fisle – Fisle. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons 



The shingles (herpes zoster) vaccine — 5 Comments

  1. Please advise that your readers may want to receive the Shingles Vaccine, but their Primary Doctor will advise against it for them if they are immunosuppressed. This vaccine contains a “Live Virus” which could be very dangerous for them.

  2. Please include a warning to all people wanting the Herpes Vaccine that it contains a “live virus” . This means that all people who are immunosuppressed that there Primary Care Doctor will strongly advise them that this vaccine is potentially dangerous for them.

    • Yes, the shingles vaccine contains live (very weak) virus and is not recommended for anyone with a weakened immune system. It is standard procedure to fill out a health questionnaire beforehand to reduce any risks associated with this or any vaccine. Thanks for the comment, FN

    • Hi Ann, thanks for the comment. Most people I know (other than my brother who had shingles in his 20s!) developed shingles well into their 70s and 80s. But anyone age 50-59 who is willing to pay out of pocket or has insurance that covers the vaccine should considering getting it. FN