Shingle all the way

Remember how I told you last time that anti-vaccine people will throw a true statement at you but not put in context in order to deceive? Well, they’re at it again. Actually, this is nothing new. This particular “gambit” has been around for a while, but I just recently encountered it in a blog with several people actually believing it. The gambit?

“Varicella vaccine is the cause of the rise in cases of shingles!”

Really?

To understand why this is an anti-vaccine gambit, it is necessary to understand three things: chickenpox, the varicella vaccine, and shingles. First, chickenpox is an infection with the varicella zoster virus (VZV). The infection causes respiratory problems, a diffused rash over the body, fever, and all sorts of other unsavory symptoms. You feel crappy. Worse yet, there are those who go on to develop all sorts of severe complications from it. I personally know a person who, as a child, lost their hearing because of it. Then there are those who get meningitis from chickenpox. A less severe complication, but one that weighed heavily on society, was that parents had to stay home with their sick children, and sick children could not go to school. Lots of productivity was lost when chickenpox was wild.

The thing about wild chickenpox is that once you get it, you have life-long immunity to it. At least that’s the idea. It’s changing a little bit because less and less children are coming down with it and exposing others. The less we are exposed, the less of a booster effect that our immune system gets from those exposures. On the other hand, the chickenpox vaccine gives the same type of immunity that you’d get from the infection, only without the infection. One shot, no symptoms, lots of immunity.

As the vaccine proliferated, more and more of us became immune without the wild virus out there to make the un-vaccinated sick. As that happened, those who already had chickenpox at some point in their lives missed out on the booster effect. As they missed those boosters from being exposed to kids with chickenpox, immune systems waned. As immune systems waned, shingles happened.

Shingles is a reactivation of the VZV in your nerve endings (usually around the abdomen or back). That’s right, VZV hides in your nerves and goes dormant. It may reactivate once in a while, but your immune system is so good at taking it out (after having learned how to do so the first time they met) that you don’t get the full rash. However, if your immune system is waning because it hasn’t been boosted, then you get shingles.

Let’s recap. If you get the wild virus:

  1. You get the infection and are subject to the complications thereof.
  2. Your immune system “remembers” the virus.
  3. Any leftover virus is dormant.
  4. If the dormant virus reactivates, your immune system knows how to deal with it.
  5. Your immune system gets boosted by being exposed to the wild virus.

If you get the vaccine virus:

  1. You don’t get the infection or the complications of chickenpox.
  2. Your immune system still “remembers” the virus, should it come into contact with either the wild or the vaccine again.
  3. There is controversy as to whether the vaccine virus goes dormant like the wild one does. We just haven’t had the vaccine long enough to see adults with shingles directly attributed to it. (Adults who never had chickenpox but develop shingles.)
  4. Your immune system gets boosted by being exposed to the wild virus.

Notice number 5 and number 4, respectively. If you don’t get exposed to the wild virus, you don’t get boosted. The wild virus is being averted by the wider and wider use of the chickenpox vaccine. Without that boosting, the immune system wanes and any dormant virus is allowed to be reactivated and give you shingles.

So, yes, the wider use of the vaccine is causing shingles, but not directly. Furthermore, there now is a shingles vaccine – which is basically a booster. You get that as an adult, and it “reminds” your immune system about VZV, keeping it at bay if it decides to reactivate. Both vaccines, the one you get as a kid and the shingles “booster” have been found to be safe and effective… And don’t cause shingles.

Next time someone tells you that the chickenpox vaccine causes shingles, give them the explanation above.

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One thought on “Shingle all the way

  1. I heard an explanation that the varicella vaccine should be abandoned to prevent adults getting shingles. They said that kids getting chicken pox was a good way to prevent shingles.Since I had three children from age six months to six years get chicken pox for an entire month (two weeks each, with two getting it two weeks after the index brother), I have to ask them why they hate children enough to have them go through that kind of torture. Or why they hate parents enough to make them deal with very sick children, who cannot sleep and are in pain from dozens to hundreds of itchy open wounds.Anyone who insists that children need to get chicken pox to protect adults from shingles is idiotically cruel. There is no reason to have kids suffer when there is a vaccine for shingles.

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