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curiousKC | Does the COVID Vaccine Cause Shingles?

New vaccines raise new questions

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Above image credit: As it stands this month, 13% of Kansas residents and 12% of Missouri residents have been vaccinated. (Canva | Collage by Vicky Diaz-Camacho)

This article has been updated to include insight from Anthony Fehr, professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas.

It’s now a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and nearly 13% of Kansas residents and 12% of Missouri residents have been fully vaccinated. 

However, there remains some level of wariness over vaccine safety. 

For that reason, Kansas Citian Susan Scheerer asked curiousKC: “Does the second dose of COVID vaccine cause shingles?” 

The short answer is no, according to a WebMD Health News report from February.

Infectious disease specialists explain there’s no scientific evidence that the COVID vaccines are linked to shingles. 

Infectious disease specialists explain there’s no scientific evidence that the COVID vaccines are linked to shingles. 

“It’s very unlikely biologically,” said Anthony Fehr, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Kansas. “The vaccines don’t turn your immune system upside down like COVID does.” 

Fehr works in the Department of Molecular Biosciences and has been working to develop therapeutics since the pandemic outbreak began.    

“We’ve basically never stopped,” he added. 

Fehr studies “how coronaviruses counter anti-viral measures imposed by their hosts.” He explains that the coronavirus “twists our immune system around for its own advantage.” 

He put it like this: shingles preys on weakened or altered immune systems. The Sars-CoV-2 virus attacks, weakens and alters immune system function.

It’s important to understand what shingles is, said Jason Glenn, professor of history and philosophy of medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“What I would emphasize is that shingles is only caused by dormant chickenpox virus that may flare up in older people who had chickenpox when they were younger. That flare-up may be facilitated by a weakened immune system,” Glenn wrote in an email. 

This is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise people at least 50 years old to get vaccinated against the painful viral infection. 

During the pandemic, more people reported heightened stress and anxiety, a study shows, which can have adverse effects on one’s ability to fight off infection. Stress can trigger the shingles.

Experts continue to reassure the public that the COVID vaccines are safe, based on tried and true research.

None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently on the market weaken your immune system – in fact they do the opposite and strengthen our immune systems to learn how to fight the virus,” Glenn wrote. “Also, because neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccines have any live virus in them, so they can’t give you any illness whatsoever.”


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