Summary: Zostavax (the Shingles vaccine) is a live attenuated vaccine. Because of this there is concern that after you get vaccinated you should avoid contact with people who have weakened immune systems. If you tolerated the vaccine well and have no outward signs of illness it’s probably OK to be around people within seven days of the shot.
Dear Curtis: I got the Shingles vaccine about 3 days ago but I’m a little worried. I was told that there is a possibility that I could make some of the people around me sick. So I should try to avoid people who have low immune systems and kids who haven’t had chicken pox yet. Is this true? And, if so, for how long? I’m pretty active and this will drive me crazy if I can’t get out and do stuff.
I’ve written before about some of the issues that you can come across with Zostavax (brand name for the Shingles vaccine). One of the biggest concerns is making people around you sick with Chicken Pox or Shingles.
Why Does Zostavax Do This?
You need to understand that there are a number of different types of vaccines. Zostavax is considered a ‘live’ vaccine. It’s still ‘weaker’ than the real thing, but your body recognizes it and helps build antibodies to it.
But, even though it’s weaker, it can still cause problems in people who are immunocompromised (people who have weak immune systems). For example: people who have HIV, cancer, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, young children, people in nursing homes, pregnancy, etc.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of the concerns about Zostavax infecting others is based on after market reporting. That’s because no drug company is purposely going to look at whether a drug will cause harm to pregnant women, HIV patients, cancer patients or the elderly.
So a lot of the information that we have about Zostavax doing this isn’t set in stone. There’s conjecture and a little bit of guessing going on.
How Long Do You Need to Worry?
However, despite it not being an exact science at this point, there are some general recommendations straight from the manufacturer (Merck).
First of all, watch your response to the vaccine. Did you develop any sort of rash from the vaccine? Do you feel okay in general? No fever, grogginess or just general feeling that you might be coming down with something?
If your answer to these questions is a solid ‘no’, then I would say you are probably in the clear. The biggest concern is that the vaccine may trigger an illness in you (always a small concern with vaccines). If you had that then you’d want to let that clear up before being around anyone. This is part of the reason why the manufacturer makes a person wait two years after an outbreak to get the vaccine.
Probably the best advice is to avoid high risk populations, even if you feel fine, for 7 days. If you still feel fine that far out it’s highly unlikely that you would pose much of a risk to anyone.