Zostavax

What is Zostavax?

Zostavax is used to prevent herpes zoster virus (shingles) in people age 50 and older.

Herpes zoster is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children. When this virus becomes active again in an adult, it can cause herpes zoster, or shingles. Zostavax is a live vaccine that helps prevent shingles.

Zostavax works by exposing you to a small dose of the virus, which causes the body to develop immunity to the disease. Zostavax will not treat an active infection that has already developed in the body.

Zostavax will not treat shingles or nerve pain caused by shingles (post-herpetic neuralgia).

Zostavax may also be used for purposes other than those listed in this medication guide.

Important information about Zostavax

You can still receive a vaccine if you have a minor cold. If you have tuberculosis, or any other severe illness with a fever or any type of infection, wait until you get better before receiving Zostavax.

You should not receive a booster vaccine if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot.

Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving Zostavax. If you ever need to receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous shot caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with herpes zoster (shingles) is much more dangerous to your health than receiving this vaccine. However, like any medicine, Zostavax can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

Do not receive Zostavax if you have leukemia or lymphoma (or other cancer affecting bone marrow), a history of allergic reaction to neomycin (Mycifradin, Neo-Fradin, Neo-Tab). You should not receive Zostavax if you are pregnant, or if you have active untreated tuberculosis, any type of cancer that affects bone marrow, or a weak immune system caused by disease (such as HIV or AIDS) or by receiving medications such as steroids or chemotherapy.

Before receiving Zostavax

You should not receive Zostavax if you have:

  • active untreated tuberculosis;
  • leukemia, lymphoma, or other cancer affecting bone marrow;
  • a history of allergic reaction to gelatin or neomycin (Mycifradin, Neo-Fradin, Neo-Tab);
  • a weak immune system caused by disease (such as HIV or AIDS), or by receiving medications such as steroids or chemotherapy; or
  • if you are pregnant.

To make sure you can safely receive Zostavax, tell your doctor if you have any of these other conditions:

  • a history of allergic reaction to any vaccine;
  • if you have received a "live" vaccine within the past 4 weeks; or
  • if you have never had chickenpox.

You can still receive a vaccine if you have a minor cold. If you have tuberculosis, or any other severe illness with a fever or any type of infection, wait until you get better before receiving Zostavax.

FDA pregnancy category C. It is not known whether Zostavax is harmful to an unborn baby. However, this vaccine is not for use in women of child-bearing age and should not be given to a pregnant woman. It is not known whether Zostavax passes into breast milk, or if it could harm a nursing baby. Do not use this medication without telling your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby. Zostavax should not be given to a child.

How is Zostavax given?

Zostavax is given as an injection under the skin. You will receive Zostavax in a doctor's office or other clinic setting.

Zostavax is usually given as a one-time injection. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you will not need a booster vaccine.

You may receive other vaccines at the same time you receive Zostavax.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Since Zostavax is given as a one-time injection, you are not likely to be on a dosing schedule.

What happens if I overdose?

An overdose of Zostavax is unlikely to occur.

What should I avoid before or after receiving Zostavax?

If you need to receive a "live" vaccine, wait at least 4 weeks after your zoster vaccine to receive the live vaccine. Live vaccines include measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), oral polio, chickenpox (varicella), typhoid, BCG (Bacillus Calmette and Guérin), and nasal flu vaccine. You should not receive a pneumonia vaccine (Pneumovax 23) within 4 weeks before or after receiving your Zostavax vaccine.

After receiving Zostavax, if you develop a skin rash that looks like shingles, avoid coming into contact with other people who have never had chickenpox (especially newborns, pregnant women, or someone with a weak immune system). Also avoid contact with these individuals if you develop a rash or other reaction where the vaccine was injected into your skin.

Zostavax side effects

You should not receive a second Zostavax if you had a life-threatening allergic reaction after the first shot. Keep track of any and all side effects you have after receiving Zostavax. If you ever need to receive a booster dose, you will need to tell the doctor if the previous shots caused any side effects.

Becoming infected with shingles is much more dangerous to your health than receiving the vaccine to protect against it. Like any medicine, Zostavax can cause side effects, but the risk of serious side effects is extremely low.

Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat. Call your doctor at once if you have a serious side effects such as:

  • fever, swollen glands, sore throat, flu symptoms;
  • breathing problems; or
  • severe or painful skin rash.

Less serious Zostavax side effects include:

  • pain, warmth, redness, bruising, itching, or swelling where the shot was given;
  • diarrhea;
  • joint or muscle pain;
  • headache; or
  • mild skin rash.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

What other drugs will affect Zostavax?

There may be other drugs that can affect Zostavax. Tell your doctor about all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you use. This includes vitamins, minerals, herbal products, and drugs prescribed by other doctors. Do not start using a new medication without telling your doctor.