Does COVID vaccination cause shingles? Yes but mostly NO.

Does COVID vaccination cause shingles? Yes but mostly NO.

Andrew Chuma No Comment
General Wellness

I spoke with someone recently who unfortunately developed a painful bout of shingles. Quick to put the blame on the Pfizer Covid vaccine, it turns out that they had not received the Shingles vaccine!!!

Just to be clear, the Covid vaccine, any of them, has no more potential to result in a flare up of shingles than any other stressor, physical or emotional, and certainly not more than getting Covid itself!

In fact, getting Covid, especially if unvaccinated since the disease may be worse, significantly increases the risks of getting shingles.

Let’s take a step back. What is shingles? Shingles is essentially the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (VZV), the same virus that causes chickenpox which many adults had as children. Chicken pox is less common now since there is a pediatric vaccine against it. 

After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays dormant (inactive) in their body, primarily in the roots of sensory nerves. It can sit there quietly for decades. The virus can reactivate later in life, causing shingles which manifest as a rash, following the sensory distribution of the nerve the virus is living in. Shingles also can cause varying degrees of pain, since the nerves the virus lives in are sensory. The pain can be mild, but often is quite severe, and can last for the rest of the person’s life. My grandmother, for example, had shingles involving the sensory nerve which runs from the spine around to the front of her abdomen. The rash and pain stopped exactly at the middle of her chest since these nerves do not cross the middle or overlap. Unfortunately, it involved the area where her bra would rest and for the rest of her life, she could not wear a bra since the mere touching of that skin, despite it looking quite normal, would cause severe burning pain. In my practice, I see patients in whom shingles cause severe ear infections, profound, permanent hearing loss and facial paralysis (shingles mostly affects sensory nerves but not exclusively). If shingles involves the nerves which innervate the face, especially the nose, there is potential for visual loss. Shingles can also cause meningitis and can even lead to death. 

ANY physical or emotional stress can cause the VZV to reactivate. A cold, arthritis flare up, strained knee, a bad night of sleep or freaking out because someone cut you off in traffic. Any vaccination, including COVID, stimulates an immune response which is stressful on the body. But just like anything, it is all relative. The chances of getting shingles after having COVID is significantly greater than if you get the vaccination or get COVID after vaccination, since the case is usually milder. The benefits far outweigh the risks.

The good news is also that there is a vaccine against shingles and everyone over 50 should get it. The vaccine does not eliminate the virus, just allows your body to recognise the reactivated virus sooner and beat it back. The old version was a single shot and was only somewhat effective but the newer, 2 shot version is very effective and has very few side effects. I got the shots and had zero side effects. Everyone over 50 should get it.

Despite the fact that most people who develop shingles have only one episode during their lifetime, they should still get vaccination since recurrences can occur and be more severe.

Get your Covid vaccine and stop looking for excuses not to get it.

Get your 4th booster if eligible (over 50). General rule of thumb is to get it 4-6 months after your last shot or if you had Covid.

Get your shingles vaccine if you’re over 50 or immunocompromised. 

Stay safe and be well.


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