A new study of 193,083 adults, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, reveals that the herpes zoster vaccine, also called the shingles vaccine, is safe for preventing shingles, a chickenpox virus rash which affects more than 1 million people annually in the United States.

Shingles is extremely painful and infectious, and the virus can return to a person’s body multiple times, causing damage to the nervous system. It is common in older people and dangerous to their health, because their immune systems are weaker than younger people’s, and immunity to the virus lessens the older a person gets.

The Vaccine Safety Datalink project, or the VSD project, which oversees the safety of immunizations, is a combined effort of care organizations, such as Kaiser Permanente, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study, which analyzed the undesirable side effects of the zoster vaccine, was conducted from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2008, in adults aged over 50.

Results from the study showed a narrow rise in local reactions where the injection was administered, between 1 to 7 days following vaccination. The researchers determined that after the patients were administered the vaccine, there was no higher risk for cardiovascular diseases; encephalitis meningitis, and encephalopathy; cerebrovascular diseases; Bell’s palsy or Ramsay-Hunt syndrome.

Hung Fu Tseng, PhD, MPH, a research scientist with the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Department of Research and Evaluation in Pasadena, California and lead author of the study, commented:

“It’s good to know there is no serious adverse reaction to the zoster vaccine. The study supports the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation and reassures the general public that the vaccine is safe.”

National data shows that even though the herpes zoster vaccine was initially licensed in 2006, not many people have actually been vaccinated, and although the vaccine was originally recommended by the ACIP for healthy individuals over the age of 60, in 2011, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) gave the okay for it to be administered in people between the ages of 50-59 as well.

Written By Christine Kearney