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COVID-19 and shingles: the vaccine basics

What you need to know

Ever since the COVID-19 vaccine became widely available in the spring of 2021, there has been discussion about side effects that might happen after your vaccination. 

Despite some recent speculation, one side effect of the COVID-19 vaccine is not a shingles outbreak. However, if you've had shingles or the chickenpox in the past, there is the possibility that the virus will reactivate External Site due to stress on your immune system or another illness. 

To help you understand the potential for this in your own body, let’s go back to the basics.

COVID-19 vaccine basics

The COVID-19 vaccine is your best defense against getting seriously ill from the coronavirus. At the most basic level, the vaccine uses messenger RNA (mRNA) to stimulate your immune system to create antibodies. These antibodies help you develop immunity to the disease without having to get it first.

After getting the COVID vaccine, you may experience some common side effects External Site, like:

  • Headache
  • Achiness
  • Mild swelling where you had the injection
  • Nausea

Although the side effects may feel significant at the time that you experience them, most symptoms go away in one to two days. Serious side effects are rare, but if you're concerned, talk to your doctor or seek emergency care. People with autoimmune diseases or who are immune compromised may experience more pronounced side effects due to an already weakened immune system.

Shingles vaccine basics

The shingles vaccine is the only way to protect against shingles, which is a viral infection that causes a painful rash External Site. The varicella-zoster virus causes shingles. It’s the same virus that causes chickenpox, and stays inactive in your body even after you recover. This means anyone who has had the chickenpox previously may develop shingles later in life.

While shingles is not life-threatening, it can be extremely painful. Shingles, also known as the herpes zoster virus, typically affects only a small area of your body, but the rash may cause symptoms of burning, numbness, itching and painful blisters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults 50 years and older get two doses of the shingles vaccine called SHINGRIX External Site. These doses can be given from two to six months apart. Even if you’ve had shingles in the past, the vaccine can prevent future infections. SHINGRIX is more than 90 percent effective in preventing shingles External Site and lasts around four to five years.

Can the COVID vaccine cause shingles?

According to a small study by the University of California External Site, there is currently no evidence that proves the COVID vaccine can cause shingles External Site. However, scientists say that after you get the COVID-19 shot, your immune system gets busy creating antibodies. This means your immune system may become temporarily compromised to other health conditions (like the chickenpox virus).

Researchers are still getting a better understanding of how the COVID-19 vaccine impacts a potential shingles outbreak. One clinical trial External Site has even suggested that getting the shingles vaccine may help your body fight off the flu and COVID-19.

Getting the COVID-19 and shingles vaccines

Both the COVID-19 vaccines and SHINGRIX are covered at no cost by most Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield health insurance plans. If you have a Medicare plan, both vaccines are covered by your Medicare prescription drug plan.

Before getting the vaccine, talk to your personal doctor to make sure the vaccines are right for you. According to the CDC, you can get the COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccines External Site (including the one for shingles) at the same time. 

To find a doctor in your area or check your specific plan benefits before you get a vaccine, log in to myWellmark® Opens New Window. myWellmark is your secure member website that gives you access to tools, resources and insights to help you manage health care spending and live a healthier life.