Feb. 9, 2021 — The Reddit message board user was looking for others in similar misery to share their stories. The 27-year-old had received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the user developed shingles. "Anybody else have a similar experience?" the post asked. "My doctor said there are anecdotes out there similar to mine."
Infectious disease specialists, however, disagree that this is cause and effect, but interest in the possible connection remains high. According to Google Trends, searches for the term “covid shingles” hit peak popularity on the search engine over the past week
"There is no scientific evidence of this [association]," says Aaron Glatt, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, NY, and a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA).
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful viral infection that people who have had chickenpox can get when the virus is reactivated. The shingles vaccine, Shingrix, is recommended for people ages 50 and up to prevent the condition.
William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University medical Center and also a spokesperson for the IDSA, agrees there is no evidence of a link to the COVID-19 vaccine. "Other than the people who had serious prior allergic reactions, to date no other incidents of other medical events that exceed the normal background rate of those events in the community have been found,” says Schaffner, citing CDC data.
Cases of shingles appearing are not surprising, both doctors also agree, but there's no evidence they are linked to the COVID-19 vaccine. "Things happen, particularly with older adults," Schaffner says. "We have to identify medical events that might be causal from coincidence. So far we don't have any other events other than allergic reactions [linked to the vaccine]."
"Almost certainly, those who get shingles did not get Shingrix vaccinated," Glatt adds.
"Almost 1 out of 3 people in the United States will develop shingles in their lifetime," Glatt says. It doesn't surprise him that shingles cases are appearing, since many of the millions of Americans who have gotten their COVID-19 vaccine are older and your risk of getting shingles increases with age.
Two doses of the shingles vaccine will prevent shingles in 91% to 97% of adults, the CDC says, depending on their age when they get vaccinated. In general, the CDC advises that no other vaccines be given within 14 days of getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers say shingles appears to be triggered partially by a decrease in immunity. Outbreaks of shingles are often linked to stress, stressful life events, and depressive symptoms — all of which have been common during the pandemic.
More on Shingles
Shingles happens when the varicella zoster virus, which causes chickenpox, is reactivated after lying dormant in the body. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at risk for shingles. More than 99% of Americans born before 1980 have had chickenpox, the CDC estimates.
With shingles, a painful rash develops, usually on one side of the body, often on the face or torso. The rash blisters and scabs over, usually in 7 to 10 days, and then clears up in 2 to 4 weeks, the CDC says. Other symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, and upset stomach.
However, about 1 in 10 people who get shingles develop long-lasting nerve pain for months or years. This is known as postherpetic neuralgia or PHN. Shingles can also affect the eyes, the CDC says, and less commonly lead to pneumonia, hearing issues, inflammation of the brain, or death.