A Comprehensive Analysis: Link Between The Shingles Vaccine And The COVID-19 Virus

The painful rash that often accompanies shingles is only one sign of this common but debilitating disease. Shingles¹ virus reactivation has been linked in some research to using the COVID-19 vaccine.

Many people in the United States are considering getting vaccinated now that the new COVID-19 boosters are available and flu season is quickly approaching. Recent investigations have corroborated anecdotal reports that the incidence of shingles in the days after a COVID-19 infection is higher than would be predicted.

This article will analyze how the COVID-19 vaccination is related to shingles.

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What are shingles?

Herpes zoster,² more often known as shingles, is a painful and sometimes disabling virus. The chickenpox virus, varicella zoster, becomes active again after being dormant. The virus enters the nervous system and remains latent after infection, only to emerge as shingles if the immune system is compromised.

After the age of 50, the risk of getting shingles nearly doubles every decade. Complications, such as bacterial skin infections, are more common in those over 70.

Some people will suffer from post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN), an exceedingly painful illness that causes chronic neuropathic pain for at least three months after the rash's development and sometimes much longer.

Who is most likely to get shingles?

Shingles may develop in anybody who has had chickenpox. All except a small percentage of the population born after standard vaccination against chickenpox was introduced in 1995 are at risk. The rash of shingles may affect anybody, including young people. The likelihood of contracting shingles, however, does rise with age.

What are the causes of shingles?

The varicella-zoster virus first generates the recognizable chickenpox rash on the whole body in newly infected people. After an adequate immune response has been mounted and the virus has been suppressed, the immune system reduces viral loads to the point where they no longer induce chickenpox symptoms such as rash and fever.

However, not all of the virus particles are removed. They choose to hide out in our neurons and stay in the body. They remain dormant in our bodies for the remainder of our lives unless our immune systems become weakened by stress or an unrelated sickness.

Symptoms of shingles

The first symptoms of shingles are often a band of numbness and tingling anywhere on the body, generally on one side. After the first tingling subsides, little blisters appear on the skin. 

Blisters of this kind usually clear up in a week or two, but the nerve irritation that caused them may sometimes grow into a persistent illness known as post-herpetic neuralgia.

Although the rash eventually fades away, the discomfort associated with this ailment often does not. When this happens, the virus emerges and causes a blistering rash along the nerve it had been hiding in. 

What is the treatment for shingles?

Shingles may be treated with any one of many prescription antiviral drugs. To get the most out of them, take them as soon as you notice symptoms, preferably within 72 hours. They are often taken orally. Immunocompromised patients and those with additional complications may receive their medicine via an intravenous line.

Antiviral medications can lessen the severity and duration of herpes simplex virus infection and reduce the likelihood of developing post-herpetic neuralgia if symptoms are recognized early, and a diagnosis is made quickly. Your doctor may also suggest steroid creams, antidepressants, or anticonvulsants for nerve pain and itching.

Please speak to your doctor immediately if you see any of the above symptoms. When antiviral drugs are given quickly, the prognosis improves.

Prevention of shingles

If you suffered chickenpox as a child, you're probably afraid to get it again because of the itchiness and the possibility of developing post-herpetic neuralgia. Immunizations are available, which is wonderful news.

Without protection from the vaccine, one in three individuals will have shingles at some point. This figure might drop to fewer than one in thirty with widespread immunization.

Zostavax, the first vaccination, was licensed in 2006 and is no longer available in the United States. 

Everyone over the age of 50 should have the herpes zoster vaccination. 

The newer vaccination, called Shingrix, can decrease the incidence of shingles by 97% in people who complete the two-dose course. Approved in 2017, Shingrix has been demonstrated to be effective in preventing new shingles and reducing the frequency of serious consequences. When compared to Zostrix, Shingrix provides longer-lasting immunity.

What is the connection between shingles and the COVID-19 vaccine?

Researchers are still looking into any reports of adverse effects from using these vaccinations. There is some evidence to show that a recurrence of shingles may be a negative side effect of COVID-19 vaccination.

A comprehensive study from 2021 indicates, however, that there is no conclusive evidence linking the vaccination with shingles at this time. But the author does admit that this is a remote possibility — therefore, additional study is required.

The vaccinations are safe and effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),³ although they may have unwanted side effects in certain recipients. Health professionals recommend getting the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible to help stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes the severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Despite the lack of conclusive data, the CDC recommends the COVID-19 vaccine for everyone five years of age and above. Although a shingles outbreak may be a possible adverse effect of vaccination, it is very uncommon, and the benefits far exceed the dangers.

Some studies indicate that some persons vaccinated may develop lymphocytopenia, or a decrease in white blood cells, after that. According to the study's authors, even this brief drop in lymphocyte count might be enough to cause VZV reactivation and a shingles outbreak. Conclusive data is not currently available since Covid-19 is still an evolving disease entity.

Is it important to get a COVID-19 vaccine?

With appropriate treatment and symptom management, most cases of COVID-19 resolve within three to six weeks. The propagation of the Delta variation, which is 50% more infectious than early strains of the virus, may be reduced by masking, physical separation, and hand cleanliness.

Getting vaccinated is the most effective way to stop future outbreaks and mutations. Below are some very good arguments in favor of vaccination right now:

  • Only vaccination can protect against serious infection after exposure. Once the virus enters the body, the protective antibodies produced by the vaccine and the body's army of fighter cells significantly reduce the likelihood that you will develop severe COVID-19 disease.

  • Vaccines against COVID-19 reduce the risk of severe illness by 90% to 97%⁴ across all subtypes, including Delta. One-third fewer individuals will get ill from the Delta version, and even if they do, those vaccinated will likely have mild cold or flu-like symptoms.

  • Over a billion doses of Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have been administered globally with just a handful of unusual adverse effects.

  • COVID-19, like other seasonal viruses such as influenza, is most active when temperatures drop. As a winter virus, its contagiousness is expected to increase by a factor of five from the levels seen this summer. Therefore, all who can get the vaccine should do so immediately, particularly those living in areas at high risk.

  • To participate more freely in regular life, being immunized is a must. During this COVID-19 outbreak, limiting your outings and travel is wise, but many places are now requesting evidence of vaccination or a negative test if you must enter the building.

  • Getting vaccinated is simple and inexpensive. Adequate supplies of the COVID-19 vaccination are freely accessible at any convenient location, including pop-up clinics, medical offices, pharmacies, and even health departments. Anyone under 18 should provide proper identification and be accompanied by an adult.

  • When you get vaccinated, you protect not just yourself but also others around you since you are only one-third as likely to get ill after exposure as those who are unvaccinated.

The Lowdown

There isn't enough data to establish a direct relationship, but some studies have shown that the body's immunological reaction to the vaccination might create a shingles outbreak.

Some evidence suggests that the COVID-19 vaccination may increase the risk of developing shingles. However, the exact relationship between the two remains unclear, and additional study is required.

Evidence suggests that changes in the immune system may trigger the development of shingles. Once the varicella-zoster virus has been reactivated for any reason, the result is shingles.

Only those who have had chickenpox or shingles before are susceptible to getting it again. Despite this correlation, health professionals recommend being vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is essential because the vaccine's benefits are greater than its hazards.

  1. Shingles | National Institute on Aging

  2. Clinical overview | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  3. Vaccines for COVID-19 | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  4. Fact check-COVID-19 vaccines so far significantly reduce severe illness and hospitalization | Reuters

Other sources:

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