Get the shingles vaccination

DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 75-year-old female who, apparently and amazingly, never had chickenpox. When the vaccine became available in 1993, I had a blood test that showed no antibodies, confirming my belief that I had not had chickenpox. I then received a series of two vaccinations. Now my question is: Should I have the shingles vaccination? Can I get shingles if I never had chickenpox, even though I’ve been vaccinated against it? I’ve received a different answer from every medical person I’ve asked. — S.T.

ANSWER: I would recommend getting the shingles vaccine (that’s the consensus recommendation, too). I also am hopeful that a new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, will be available within a few months of publication of your letter: As of this writing, the new vaccine has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It appears to have better and longer-lasting immunity than the currently available one (Zostavax), which begins to wear off after several years and provides only partial protection.

People who received vaccination for chickenpox still can get shingles, although the risk seems to be smaller than in people who got chickenpox itself. The shingles vaccine is clearly recommended for people who had the chickenpox vaccine.

(Roach is a columnist for the North American Press Syndicate. Write to him at 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803.)