Do I need shingles vaccine if I had chicken pox?

A fellow caregiver asked...

Do I need shingles vaccine if I had chicken pox before, or is it still necessary?

Expert Answer

Dr. Leslie Kernisan is the author of a popular blog and podcast at BetterHealthWhileAging.net. She is also a clinical instructor in the University of California, San Francisco, Division of Geriatrics.

Yes, even if you haven't had chicken pox, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shingles vaccine (Zostavax, which was approved in 2006) for all adults over age 60. Many older adults don't remember whether they've had chicken pox, but the CDC says that 99 percent of adults over age 40 have probably had it.

The shingles vaccine can prevent shingles or reduce its severity. You can get the vaccine even if you've already had shingles, to reduce your odds of getting it again. The older you are, the worse your symptoms tend to be.

Adults over age 60 who should skip the vaccine include those with:

  • Certain allergies (to gelatin or other vaccine components; tell the doctor if you have allergies).
  • HIV/AIDS or another infection that compromises the immune system.
  • Cancer, who are being treated with chemotherapy or radiation.
  • Other treatments that affect the immune system, such as steroids.
  • A history of cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system (such as leukemia or lymphoma).
  • Active tuberculosis.

All Medicare Part D plans cover the shingles vaccine, as do some private insurers.