Zostavax vs. Shingrix

Zostavax and Shingrix are both prescription vaccines designed to prevent shingles. While Zostavax has been used since 2006, Shingrix is a newer drug that has been shown to be:

  • more effective,
  • longer lasting, and
  • associated with fewer side effects.

The following table presents some of the most important information associated with each drug.

Drug Name




Type of Drug Design

Common Side Effects


Merck & Co Inc. Pharmaceuticals

Reduces shingles by 51%

Shingles protection drops to 35% six year after vaccination







GlaxoSmithKiline Biologicals

Reduces shingles by 90%

Shingles protection remains at 85% at four years after vaccination


Pain and redness at injection site,

Muscle pain,


With regards to Zostavax, in addition to the above complications and side effects, numerous patients allege that the medicine causes further injury. Since 2016, thousands of Zostavax lawsuits have been filed against the drug's manufacturer alleging that it causes such conditions as:

  • neurological diseases or disorders, like brain inflammation (or encephalitis) and brain damage,
  • spinal cord inflammation (or myelitis), and
  • hearing loss.

Our national mass tort lawsuit attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

Herpes zoster
Herpes Zoster Virus

1. What is Zostavax?

Zostavax (or, zoster vaccine live) is a vaccine whose goal is to reduce a patient's risk of contracting shingles. The drug was designed to help appropriate patients aged 50 years or older. As stated above, the drug is manufactured by Merck & Co Inc. Pharmaceuticals.1

The Zostavax vaccine was licensed by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) in 2006. It is given to patients in a single dose and is administered as a shot. The medicine can be given in a doctor's office or pharmacy.2

The drug was initially tested by Merck via two clinical studies. These are:

  1. the Zostavax Efficacy and Safety Trial (“ZEST”), and
  2. the Shingles Prevention Study (“SPS”).3

These studies found that Zostavax reduces the risk that people will develop shingles by 51 percent - for appropriate patients aged 60 years or over.4

2. How effective is Zostavax in treating shingles?

As just mentioned, Zostavax reduces the risk that people will develop shingles by 51 percent - for appropriate patients aged 60 years or over.

Efficacy of the medicine goes down as the age of a person goes up. For example, clinical studies have shown that the drug reduces the risk that people will get shingles by:

  • 70 percent for patients aged 50-59 years,
  • 64 percent for patients 60-69 years,
  • 41percent for patients 70-79 years, and
  • 18 percent for patients 80 years of age or older.5

Studies have also shown that the efficacy of the medicine decreases over time. Protection against shingles decreases to 35 percent six years after vaccination.6

Zostavax use began in the United Kingdom (“UK”) in 2013 to help patients aged 70 years old avoid shingles. A three-year study found that the drug was 64 percent effective in helping persons steer clear of the sickness.7

3. How does Zostavax work?

Zostavax is a live virus. This means it works by injecting a live (although weakened) form of the zoster virus into a person's body.8 The zoster virus is what causes shingles.

Once injected, the body fights off the germ. This “fight” increases the immune system's opposition to the virus itself.9

As a result, the immune system becomes heightened, and in theory, is better able to fight a real zoster infection, or case of shingles.

Please note that there is a difficulty with the fact that Zostavax is a live virus. This is that the immune system of many people that take the vaccine is weak and cannot even fight off the live germ. This means that these people run the risk of contracting other viruses, like chickenpox and even shingles.10

4. Are there any complications associated with Zostavax?

People taking the Zostavax medication have reported experiencing some of the following complications and side effects:

  • shingles (or, the virus that Zostavax was meant to prevent),
  • rash,
  • hives,
  • fever,
  • nausea,
  • headache, and
  • joint and muscle pain.11

In addition, thousands of Zostavax lawsuits have been filed against the drug's manufacturer Merck & Co Inc. Pharmaceuticals since 2016. The plaintiffs in these lawsuits allege that, in addition to the above complications, the medication causes:

  • neurological diseases or disorders, like brain inflammation (or encephalitis) and brain damage,
  • spinal cord inflammation (or myelitis),
  • hearing loss,
  • blindness,
  • liver damage and liver failure, and
  • neuropathy.

Zostavax may also cause immunocompromised patients to develop shingles.

The medicine is not recommended for people under the age of 50. In addition, the drug is not recommended for the following two categories of people:

  1. persons who have experienced a life-threatening reaction to gelatin, neomycin, or any other component of shingles vaccine, and
  2. persons with a weakened immune system due to certain conditions.12
Shingrix is another vaccine that is aimed to prevent a person from getting shingles

5. What is Shingrix?

Shingrix is another vaccine that is aimed to prevent a person from getting shingles. It was licensed by the FDA in October 2017 and it is recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) as the preferred shingles vaccine.13

The vaccine uses a recombinant design as opposed to a live design.

Shingrix is approved for persons aged 50 years and over. It is recommended that healthy patients get two doses of Shingrix, separated by 2 to 6 months, to best fight off the Shingles illness.14 The drug is given as an injection into the upper arm.

Like Zostavax, Shingrix was studied in two clinical studies prior to its being licensed. It is the only shingles vaccine proven to be up to 90% effective in clinical trials.15

6. How effective is Shingrix in treating shingles?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • two doses of Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, and
  • protection stays above 85% for at least the first four years after a patient gets vaccinated.16

Per clinical trials, efficacy against shingles for different age groups is as follows:

  • 97 percent for persons 50-59 years of age,
  • 97 percent for persons 60-69 years of age, and
  • 91% for persons 70 years and older.17

In one trial that involved more than 15,000 patients (aged 50 or older), Shingrix's efficacy for preventing Shingles was greater than 95%.18 In a companion trial that included almost 14,000 patients (aged 70 or older), efficacy was about 90%.19

7. How does Shingrix work?

As mentioned above, Shingrix is a recombinant designed vaccine. These types of drugs do not inject an entire live germ (that causes an infection) into a person. Rather, they use specific pieces of that germ, like the germ's:

  • protein,
  • sugar, or
  • housing component.20

In particular, Shingrix uses glycoprotein E of the zoster virus.21

The use of specific pieces of a virus gives a person a strong immune response to an illness that targets key parts of the germ in question. A vaccine using a recombinant design may require a person to receive ongoing shots to receive maximum protection against the target germ.22

8. Are there any complications associated with Shingrix?

According to the CDC, “Shingrix is safe.”23

But, side effects of the medicine do occur, and these can include:

  • pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site,
  • muscle pain,
  • tiredness,
  • headache,
  • shivering,
  • fever, and
  • upset stomach.24

Severe allergic reactions are less common and may include:

  • hives,
  • swelling of the face/throat,
  • difficulty breathing,
  • a fast heartbeat,
  •  dizziness, and
  • weakness.25

A person should not get Shingrix if he/she:

  • has ever had a severe allergic reaction to the medicine,
  • currently has shingles,
  • is pregnant or breastfeeding,
  • is receiving antiviral drugs.26

9. Is Zostavax still being used?

Shingrix is now the “preferred” drug over Zostavax. This does not mean, however, that Zostavax is no longer used to help prevent shingles. The medicine may still be given to adults aged 60 years old or over in certain cases.27

Examples of when Zostavax may still be used include:

  • when Shingrix is not available,
  • a patient prefers it over other medicines, and/or
  • a patient is allergic to Shingrix.28

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zostavax attorneys
Call us at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or a loved one has taken Zostavax and subsequently gotten diagnosed with shingles, it is important to act before the statute of limitations expires. Call our attorneys at Shouse Law Group for help at (855) LAW-FIRM.

Legal References:

  1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax.” CDC website.

  2.  See same.

  3.  “ZOSTAVAX Efficacy and Safety Trial (ZEST),” MerkVaccines.com.

  4.  See same.

  5.  See same.

  6.  “Zostavax Vaccine Efficacy: A 12-Year Review,” MPR website.

  7.  “Effectiveness of herpes zoster vaccination in an older United Kingdom population,” National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website.

  8.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Vaccine Types.” www.vacines.gov.

  9.  See same.

  10.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax.” CDC website.

  11.  U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Zostavax.” FDA website.

  12.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Zostavax.” CDC website.

  13.  “Zoster (Shingles),” Immunize.org

  14.  See same.

  15.  See same.

  16.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Shingrix.” CDC website.

  17.  “Zoster (Shingles),” Immunize.org.

  18.  Abigail Zuger, MD, “New Shingles Vaccine is Here!” New England Journal of Medicine.

  19.  See same.

  20.  See same.

  21.  “Zoster (Shingles),” Immunize.org.

  22.  See same.

  23.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “What Everyone Should Know about Shingrix.” CDC website.

  24.  See same.

  25.  See same.

  26.  See same.

  27.  “Zoster (Shingles),” Immunize.org.

  28.  See same.

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