Chickenpox and shingles vaccinations (draft)

Why should I have a chickenpox or shingles vaccination?

Serious illness as a result of chickenpox in childhood is rare. It can be more problematic in adulthood, especially in pregnancy or in the context of other underlying health conditions. Most adults have been exposed to chickenpox and are therefore immune to it. However, the virus which caused chickenpox can be reactivated and cause shingles, usually later in life. Shingles can be unpleasant, and sometimes results in lasting discomfort.

Immunity as a result of chickenpox vaccination might wear off, such that it is better at preventing chickenpox in childhood (usually a relatively mild illness) than in adulthood. There is therefore some concern that having the chickenpox vaccination as a child might increase one’s risk of the more severe chickenpox illness as an adult. This has to be balanced against the benefits of reducing the risk of shingles.

Evidence suggests that 9 out of 10 children vaccinated with a single dose will develop immunity against chickenpox, but there is an even better immune response after two doses of the vaccine, so it is strongly recommended that two doses are given (4-6 weeks apart).

The vaccines

Vaccines to reduce the risk of shingles are available for adults. The NHS offers these to people aged 70 to 79. Zostavax (a “live” vaccine) is given as a single dose, while Shingrix is given as 2 separate doses 2 months apart.

Vaccines to prevent chickenpox are also available for those who have not already had chickenpox (usually, but not always, young children). They are usually given as 2 doses 4-8 weeks apart.

Are they safe for me?


If you have ever had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of the vaccine, you might not be able to have it, or special precautions might be necessary (such as administering it in hospital). Depending upon the particular vaccine, ingredients might include the antibiotic neomycin, gelatin, and/or polysorbates.

Immune suppression and pregnancy

If your immune system is severely suppressed, or if you might be pregnant, Zostavax or either of the chickenpox vaccines might not be suitable for you. This is because they are ‘live’ vaccines which contain a tiny amount of the virus.

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