Injection site redness (Credit: CDC and Medscape), Varicellar zoster virus (Credit: NIAID), Shingrix package (Credit: Glaxo Smith Kline)
The temporary discomfort is worth the long-term protection
Nancy R. Gough, PhD
Jul 21, 20192 min read
I finally got my first dose of the shingles vaccine Shingrix. I had been trying to get the vaccine for close to a year, and it had been unavailable. The pharmacist warned me that I might feel like I had the flu, get chills, and find that my arm at the site of the injection was painful. She wasn?t kidding!
I got the vaccine around 4PM. Within a few hours of receiving the vaccine, I started to ache. My arm where I had been injected hurt, but what really bothered me was the body aches, especially in my back. Around 10PM, I went to bed and tried to sleep. I was up every hour or so to use the bathroom, and I just couldn?t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. By 2AM, I gave up trying to sleep and took some ibuprofen. I didn?t want to interfere with my body?s immune response to the vaccine, but the discomfort was too much. I finally was able to sleep for a few hours. When I woke, I still felt awful and was running a fever. After taking a shower, I felt exhausted and had to lie down for a few hours, not really sleeping but not really fully awake either.
After getting up for the second time the day after getting the shot, I took some more ibuprofen. By the evening, the aches and fever had subsided. But my arm was amazingly hot to the touch and had a patch of red far larger than where the site of the injection was. Even the second day after the shot, the redness and heat in my arm is not any better.
These are all signs that the vaccine is working. My body is mounting an immune response. This version of the shingles vaccine causes such an extreme reaction, because it contains a special additive that stimulates T cells. It is the T cell response that declines as we get older.
At my check up the year I turned 50, my doctor referred me for a colonoscopy. What he didn?t do was recommend that I get the shingles vaccine. I wound up getting shingles. I had to wait until the shingles had resolved before I could get the vaccine. Full coverage requires a second dose in 2 to 6 months.
Even though it hurts and I know I will lose a weekend to deal with the response to the vaccine, at least my chances of getting shingles again will be far lower. I?ll gladly take a weekend of discomfort to get the second shot instead of the months of pain that I endured when I had shingles.
Find out more about shingles and the two vaccines: