After getting the shingles vaccine, my doctor said to stay away from my pregnant daughter and my grandchildren. Can you tell me why?
The virus that causes shingles — varicella-zoster virus — is also the virus that causes chickenpox. Your doctor's concern may stem from reports of rare cases in which people with no immunity to chickenpox — meaning they've never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine — have caught varicella-zoster virus from children recently vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine.
However, there are no documented cases of the varicella-zoster virus being transmitted from adults vaccinated with the shingles vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Your doctor's caution also refers to the previous shingles vaccine (Zostavax) that is a live-attenuated vaccine, meaning it uses a weakened form of the live virus. A new shingles vaccine (Shingrix) was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017. The new vaccine is inactivated, meaning it uses a dead version of the virus, eliminating the risk of transmission.
Varicella-zoster vaccines are approved for children age 12 months and older to prevent chickenpox and for adults age 50 and older to prevent shingles, but the formulations are different, and the vaccines are not interchangeable.
According to the CDC, in normal circumstances it's unnecessary to avoid pregnant women and unvaccinated children after you get the shingles vaccine. However, if you are vaccinated with Zostavax and develop a rash, take the precaution of keeping it covered until all the bumps crust over.
To develop shingles, you have to catch chickenpox first, which typically happens in childhood. When you get over chickenpox, the varicella-zoster virus stays in your body, but remains dormant, often for many years and possibly for life. As you age, though, there's an increasing risk that the virus will reactivate, resulting in shingles.
Pritish K. Tosh, M.D.
July 14, 2020
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more Expert Answers
- Zostavax (herpes zoster vaccine) questions and answers. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/Vaccines/QuestionsaboutVaccines/ucm070418.htm#top. Accessed May 15, 2018.
- Zostavax (prescribing information). Whitehouse Station, N.J.: Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp.; 2018. https://www.merckvaccines.com/Products/Zostavax. Accessed June 4, 2018.
- What everyone should know about Zostavax. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/zostavax/index.html. Accessed May 15, 2018.
- Steckelberg JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 16, 2018.
- What everyone should know about shingles vaccine (Shingrix). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html. Accessed May 25, 2018.
- Vaccine types. Vaccines.gov. https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/types/index.html. Accessed May 25, 2018.