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Zostavax is a live attenuated varicella-zoster virus vaccine, the virus has been altered to become relatively harmless and is used for the prevention of herpes zoster (“zoster” or shingles) and herpes zoster-related post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) in individuals 50 years of age or older. Individuals should receive a single dose (0.65 ml) administered subcutaneously, preferably in the deltoid region.

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Once you have had chickenpox, the virus can stay in your nervous system for many years. For reasons that are not fully understood, the virus may become active again and shingles develops. Shingles is a rash that is usually on one side of the body, the rash begins as a cluster of small red spots that often blister. The rash can be painful. Shingles rashes usually last up to 30 days and, for most people, the pain associated with the rash lessens as it heals. Persistent pain can occur for some.

As a live vaccine Zostavax should not be given to those with impaired immunity from any cause including underlying medical conditions or treatment that affects immune response, for example, radiotherapy or corticosteroids. Pregnancy, acute febrile illness, active untreated tuberculosis or known hypersensitivity to any of the vaccine constituents (this includes gelatin and the antibiotic neomycin) are other contraindications to vaccination. Pregnancy should also be avoided for 1 month following vaccination. There is theoretical potential risk of transmission of the vaccine virus from a recipient to a susceptible high risk individual – such as those with weakened immunity, pregnant women who have never had chickenpox and new-born babies of mothers who have never had chickenpox - and close contact should be avoided for up to six weeks. As with any vaccine, vaccination with Zostavax® may not result in protection in all vaccine recipients. Importantly, Zostavax® and pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax 2) should not be given concomitantly because of a reduction in the immune response noted to Zostavax.

Undesirable effects

Like all vaccines shingles vaccine can cause side effects, although not everybody gets them. Very common side effects: Pain/tenderness, erythema, swelling and itching at the injection site. Common side effects: Warmth, bruising and induration at the injection site, pain in extremity, and headache. Other reported side effects that may potentially be serious include hypersensitivity reactions including anaphylactic reactions, arthralgia, myalgia, lymphadenopathy, rash and at the injection site, urticaria, pyrexia and rash.

As with all vaccines the clinic staff will advise during the travel consultation on all aspects of the procedure including vaccine dose schedule, contraindications to vaccination, any possible interactions with other vaccines or medicines and the range of possible adverse effects from the specific vaccine and answer any queries. The product information leaflet provided during the clinic consultation has further detailed information on all aspects of Zostavax vaccination and should be retained for reference.