Currently, the preferable vaccine for shingles is a recombinant vaccine. However, ongoing research is investigating the potential use of mRNA vaccines for shingles.

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection that occurs due to the reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). This is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Shingles is most common in older adults and can cause a painful, burning rash that may develop into blisters.

A recombinant vaccination, known as Shingrix, is available to help prevent shingles from developing. However, researchers are working on an mRNA vaccine for shingles.

Read on to learn more about different vaccines and vaccines for shingles.

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At present, the preferable vaccine for shingles is Shingrix. In most individuals, it is a safe and effective vaccine for preventing shingles.

Shingrix is a type of recombinant vaccine. This means the vaccine uses specific parts of the VZV to help provide the body with a strong immune response.

Currently, there is no mRNA vaccine for shingles. However, researchers are working on a potential mRNA shingles vaccine for future use.

Previously, a live-attenuated vaccine, known as Zostavax, was available in the United States. However, it is no longer available.

There are many different types of vaccines. Each type has a different way of helping the immune system defend against infections. Different types of vaccines include:


Instead of using a part of a pathogen, such as a virus, like many other vaccines, these types use messenger RNA (mRNA). This is a molecule that contains instructions that cells use to produce proteins.

As such, scientists can create a piece of mRNA in a laboratory that corresponds to a pathogen protein and include it in a vaccine. This triggers an immune response and allows the immune system to produce proteins known as antibodies against this pathogen.

Therefore, following subsequent exposure to the pathogen, the body can quickly recognize it and produce antibodies to prevent a person from getting sick.

Read on to learn more about how mRNA vaccines work.


These types of vaccines use a specific part of the pathogen to help the body generate an immune response. Typically, these include either a protein, sugar, or casing of the germ. As such, after vaccination, the body can rapidly produce antibodies after encountering the pathogen.

A health expert may also refer to a recombinant vaccine as a subunit, polysaccharide, or conjugate vaccine. In addition to Shingrix, other types of commonly available recombinant vaccines include:


These vaccines use the toxin, or harmful product, a pathogen produces to generate an immune response. They create immunity to the part of the pathogen that leads to disease instead of the pathogen itself.

An example of a toxoid vaccine is the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.


As the name suggests, this type uses an inactive, or killed, version of the pathogen. As the pathogen is not active, the immune system is able to create an immune response without a person getting ill. However, they do not usually provide immunity that is as strong as other vaccines.

Examples of inactivated vaccines include:


These types of vaccines use a weakened live pathogen. As they are similar to a natural infection, they generate a strong immune response. As they are attenuated, they should be unable to cause an infection. However, they may not be advisable for people with weakened immune systems.

Examples of live-attenuated vaccines include:

Viral vector

Viral vector vaccines use a harmless virus to deliver a piece of genetic code to cells. This trains the immune system to produce antibodies to prevent future infections.

The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is an example of a viral vector vaccine. However, it is worth noting that this vaccine is no longer available in the U.S.

Research into mRNA vaccines against shingles is ongoing. For example, Pfizer and BioNTech are working together to develop the first mRNA-based shingles vaccine. Previously, both companies collaborated to produce an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19.

An mRNA vaccine may hold benefits over a recombinant vaccine, as researchers should be able to produce them quickly in large numbers. Additionally, while Shingrix is generally safe, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes a link to Guillain-Barré syndrome, which is a serious autoimmune disease. Phasing out Shingrix with a new mRNA vaccine may help eliminate this potential issue.

A 2023 study on mice suggests that mRNA vaccines against shingles are quicker to produce and as effective as recombinant vaccines.

Pfizer and BioNTech hope to begin clinical trials shortly.

Currently, the only available mRNA vaccine is the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. However, ongoing research is investigating mRNA vaccines for the following:

Additionally, mRNA technology could potentially help against:

  • cancer
  • allergies
  • genetic diseases
  • heart problems
  • neurodevelopmental conditions

Evidence indicates that mRNA vaccines are safe. Vaccines must undergo a rigorous multistep process before receiving approval for use.

A statement from the British Society for Immunology (BSI) states that a huge amount of evidence from multiple studies suggests that mRNA vaccines are safe and effective, and the benefits far outweigh any potential risks in the majority of people.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine is safe, and severe reactions after the vaccine are rare. Additionally, 2023 safety data indicates that factors other than vaccination relate to the potential risk of stroke after the vaccine.

At present, there is no mRNA vaccine for shingles. Instead, the current vaccine, known as Shingrix, is a recombinant vaccine. This means it uses part of the varicella-zoster virus to help the immune system protect against the virus.

However, ongoing research is investigating the potential use of mRNA vaccines against shingles and many other conditions.