Do I Need a Shingles Shot?

Happy New Year and welcome back to “Think Beyond the Nest” where we cover topics related to life as empty nesters. We’ve been a bit busy in the back half of 2019 with two weddings and a run for a local elected office (all good fodder for more blog posts), but in an attempt to be helpful and informative as it relates to our life stage, we wanted to share some info on the super fun (haha) topic of, wait for it…Shingles.

It starts with my dad who lives about three hours away. We talk every week and catch up on a variety of topics mostly centered around the current state of the Kansas City Chiefs or the Kansas City Royals. In terms of more personal topics such as ones health, he seems to be of the generation where you take life in stride, push through, and never complain much about all of the health issues that come with getting older. So I knew something was up when he mentioned how much pain he was in due to something called “shingles.”

Without getting too grotesque, he described a big, itchy and painful rash that had spread across part of his back. Medication helped a bit, but he suffered with this rash and the pain for quite a while. Finally, it went away and he’s fine, but I remember thinking, “Man that sounds pretty nasty. I hope I never get shingles, whatever it is.”

SO WHAT IS SHINGLES?

According to the MayoClinic.org: Shingles is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who’s had chickenpox may develop shingles. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus can enter your nervous system and lie dormant for years.

Eventually, it may reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin — producing shingles. But, not everyone who’s had chickenpox will develop shingles.

The reason for shingles is unclear. But it may be due to lowered immunity to infections as you grow older. Shingles is more common in older adults and in people who have weakened immune systems.

We have an elderly neighbor who lives right across the street from us. We hadn’t seen him come or go in a while, and after checking in on him, we found out not only did he have shingles, but the infection and the rash was so bad especially around his eyes, that he had two hospital stays to help with his recovery. Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery and he was lucky the shingles did not cause any permanent vision damage. In speaking to him recently, he shared with us that he never had a Shingles vaccination.

Then at my latest “over 50” (closer to 60!) annual physical, my doctor said, “You’re at the age where you need to get the shingles vaccine. Shingles is not something you want to get.” Thinking back on my dad and our neighbor, I jumped on his recommendation and went and got my first of two shingles shots. Yup. You need to get two shots approximately two to five months apart. I got the Shingrix vaccine. The actual shot doesn’t hurt, but my arm was definitely sore for about three days.

In talking with other empty nesters who have also had the shingles shot, it appears people react in different ways in the 24 hours following the shot. Two friends of ours received the shot on the same day and both spent the next day in bed with flu-like symptoms. My first shot was OK. I felt slightly nauseous later in the day, but I was fine the next day. When I got my second round, I thought it would be about the same, but as the day wore on, I kept feeling more tired and a bit flu-like. So much so, that I had to crawl in bed, wrap up tight to stay warm, and luckily fell off to sleep. As expected, I was back to 100% the next day!

So, while you have to have two rounds of shots, endure a sore arm for a few days, and possibly feel a little crummy for a day, the experts say all of that is still much better than actually getting the shingles. The Shingrix vaccine can be in short supply, so you need to check with your pharmacy for availability. I was able to reserve a dose at our local CVS pharmacy.

Be sure to check our follow-up posts on the exciting topic of shingles as we follow Lailan through her two rounds of shingles vaccinations.