Vaccination against herpes zoster, which the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) has recommended for all people over 60 and at risk since autumn 2012, protects against this. Studies had certified its high effectiveness.

However, outside of optimal study conditions, the effect of drugs such as vaccinations is often somewhat weaker. An investigation now brings certainty for the shingles vaccination: Even in everyday life, it reliably protects against the disease.

Researchers led by Yuwei Sun from the University of California in San Francisco had evaluated data from around five million adults. 3.6 percent of them were double vaccinated against herpes zoster. The participants were not immunocompromised and therefore not unusually susceptible to herpes zoster.

A so-called recombinant, adjuvanted inactivated vaccine against herpes zoster with the trade name Shingrix was vaccinated. It is approved for people aged 18 and over with an increased risk of herpes zoster disease and for everyone aged 50 and over.

The evaluation was based on so-called person-years. They correspond to the study period multiplied by the corresponding number of participants. The result: Out of 100,000 person-years, 893 of the unvaccinated contracted shingles, compared to only 259 of the vaccinated.

The effectiveness of the vaccine was 85.5 percent. For participants between the ages of 50 and 79 it was slightly higher at 86.8 percent, for people over 80 it was still 80.3 percent.

As expected, the effectiveness in everyday life was lower than the values ​​of over 90 percent that had been determined in the approval studies. However, it was still very high, especially for older people. In addition, shingles is usually much milder in people who get sick despite vaccination.

Researchers want to track the long-term effectiveness of the shingles vaccine over a total period of 12 years. Data from around 5 to 7 years after vaccination are already available. The results show that the vaccination effect remains pleasingly stable. After this period, it is still around 84 percent.

Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus. Most unvaccinated people contract it when they are young and then develop chickenpox. After the infection has healed, however, remnants of the virus remain in ganglia (nerve nodes). If the immune system’s power of attack is not sufficient to push it back, the pathogens break out again along the affected nerve tracts. Then a belt-shaped rash often develops, which gave the disease its name.

On the one hand, older people are particularly affected, whose immune system decreases with age. On the other hand, younger people who take drugs that slow down the immune system (e.g. due to rheumatism or after a transplant) and people with acquired or congenital immunodeficiency are also more susceptible to shingles.

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*The article “Every third unvaccinated person gets it: For whom a shingles vaccination makes sense” is published by NetDoktor. Contact the person responsible here.