Shingles vaccine cuts risk of serious illness from virus, study finds

New research analyses 'real world' effectiveness of shingles vaccine.

Person getting injection in left arm

A study on the shingles vaccine has found it significantly reduces the risk of ending up in hospital with the virus.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that can cause serious complications for some people, says James Mbinta, a PhD candidate in the School of Health at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

Mbinta led a study of the shingles vaccine, known as zoster vaccine live, used in the vaccination programme introduced in New Zealand in 2018.

“We found people who were vaccinated were half as likely to be admitted to hospital with shingles than those who were unvaccinated,” Mbinta says.

“We also found the vaccine significantly reduced the risk of ending up in hospital with postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of the shingles virus that can cause debilitating pain and last for several years.

“About one in four people with shingles develops postherpetic neuralgia and current treatment options are limited. Our study found the vaccine cut the chances of being hospitalised with postherpetic neuralgia by about 75 percent.”

The vaccine was found to be similarly effective for people with compromised immunity.

One third of people are at risk of developing shingles during their lifetime, says Professor Colin Simpson, co-author of a journal article on the study and Mbinta’s PhD supervisor.

“Almost half of those aged 85 years or older will get shingles, which results from the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus—the same virus that causes chickenpox.

“The results of our study should reassure those considering the shingles vaccine that it works well, particularly for preventing severe complications,” Professor Simpson says.

The study was also the first to analyse the effectiveness of the vaccine within Māori and Pacific populations.

"The risk of developing shingles and associated complications in Māori and Pacific populations was lower in those who received the vaccine compared with those who were unvaccinated,” says Mbinta.