Shingles Vaccination

Hi cousin,

There's been a lot of hype about getting the shingles vaccine here. I know my mom had the shingles and they were awful. Any opinion about the vaccine?


Dear Barbara,

Thanks for asking. As you probably know, in general I'm very suspicious about vaccinations, which are so heavily promoted by interested parties that it's hard to find truth.

In the matter of the shingles vaccination, the product information sheet for the Zostavax shingles vaccine supports its use by a study showing that in the 60-69 year old age group, shingles incidence was reduced by 51%.

That sounds impressive, but it's misleading. What we really want to know is how many people we need to vaccinate in order to prevent one case of the disease. In the study, 19,254 people were vaccinated, while a similar number received a shot of an inactive placebo. The vaccinated group had 315 cases of shingles while the placebo group had 642, a difference of 327, which in truth is a 51% reduction.

However, 327 is just 1.7% of the total, meaning 1.7 people out of every hundred were saved from shingles by the vaccination, or 1 out of 59.

Therefore, your decision whether to get the vaccine must be based on your willingness to risk being the 1 out of 59 who are helped, balanced against the risks of side effects. Although these are considered minimal, there are reports of people who believe the vaccine caused them serious health problems. Keep in mind that the company only considers side effects that occur immediately after the vaccination.

It's not quite so simple, however. Perhaps your risk is greater since your mother had shingles, as there may be a genetic factor. It also depends on general health, specifically immune health. What are your levels of vitamins D and B12? Do you get colds? Is your diet optimal? Etc.

In addition, the study was only for 3 years. What happens after this? What effect does the vaccine have on your general health later on? The vaccine contains residual protein from aborted fetus culture, which may cause an immune response with risk of auto-immunity. The vaccine also only helps for 5 years, with diminishing benefit from repeat vaccinations.

Personally, I won't consider getting vaccinated. I take a lot of vitamin C and I'm generally healthy. If there is one thing I trust the drug companies to do, it would be to report only the most positive findings, while burying negative info. I expect them to put our health before profits as much as I expect that from cigarette companies.

So I haven't made your decision any easier, but at least you now have a better basis for your decision.



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