Living well with lupus

If I have lupus, should I get the shingles vaccine?

Dr. Chakravarty is a practicing rheumatologist, and an associate member of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, specializing in Arthritis and Clinical Immunology.

See all of Eliza Chakravarty, MD, MS's answers.

In general, whether or not to get the shingles vaccine depends on your symptoms, the medications you take, and your doctor’s advice. People with lupus are at higher risk of getting shingles, compared to those without lupus, and the effects of shingles can be painful and long lasting. So, if your doctor recommends the vaccine, you should get it. However, not everyone with lupus should get the vaccine.

You should not get the vaccine if:

  • You are under 50.
  • You are having active lupus symptoms.
  • You are taking medications that severely suppress the immune system. These may include high doses of steroids, mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide, and any biologic or infusion medications.

What do I need to know before getting the vaccine?

Because the shingles vaccine contains a live (though weakened) virus, there is a risk that it could cause an infection in people with lupus-especially those who are taking medications that suppress the immune system (like high doses of steroids).

In general, it is probably safe for you to receive the shingles vaccine if:

  • You are over 50.
  • Your lupus is under control.
  • You are on medications that only mildly suppress the immune system.  These include low dose prednisone, antimalarials, methotrexate, and azathioprine.

What is shingles, and how does the vaccine work?

Once you have chicken pox as a child, the virus stays in your body, and your immune system usually keeps it under control. Shingles occurs when the virus breaks through your body’s defenses and causes a rash, usually on one side of the body. It can cause severe nerve pain that can last long after the rash has cleared up. If you don’t remember whether or not you’ve had chicken pox, you can find out by asking your doctor to test your blood. The shingles vaccine acts as a “booster” for the immune system, helping to keep the virus under control.

Talk to your doctor about whether the shingles vaccine is right for you.

Medically reviewed on November 26, 2013