Zostavax is the shingles vaccine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for most individuals over 60 years of age. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, but it can cause an extremely painful rash, severe sensitivity, blisters, and itching. While shingles is not life-threatening, complications can lead to vision loss, skin infections, inflammation in the brain, a loss of balance, and permanent nerve damage that can extend the painful sensations long after the rash and blisters have gone away.

Anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles due to a virus that can remain dormant in the body for years. There are certain factors that can put you at a higher risk of developing shingles, including age, lowered immune systems, and certain medications.  Shingles most commonly affects people over the age of 50, but individuals with certain diseases, such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, can be more susceptible to shingles. Your risk may also increase if you take certain medications, like steroids, over a long period of time.

Shingles Vaccine

There are two vaccines licensed and recommended by the CDC for shingles prevention. Zostavax has been used since its U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2006 and can reduce the risk of developing shingles by 51%. Zostavax is the brand name for the zoster live vaccine and can be used as an alternative vaccine to Shingrix, the recombinant zoster vaccine.

How Medicare Can Help

Medicare recipients may benefit from Zostavax due to age or underlying medical issues, and should get the vaccine even if they do not remember having chickenpox. The vaccination is complete in one dose that can be administered in a doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage can help pay for the shingles vaccine. If you have Original Medicare, you can enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan (PDP). You may choose to get your Medicare Part A and Part B benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD). PDPs and MA-PDs can vary in cost and each plan can have its own formulary, or list of covered drugs. Check with your plan to find out your exact cost and coverage for the shingles vaccine.

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