Shingles Vaccine and Blood Sugar Control: Diabetes Questions & Answers

Q. I have had diabetes for more than 40 years, and I use long-acting and rapid-acting insulins to manage my blood glucose levels. I am considering getting a shingles vaccine, but I’m concerned about the effect it might have on my blood glucose control. I find that taking antihistamines or even having hay fever causes my blood glucose to jump. Do you have any information on the glycemic effects of this vaccine?

A. There is no indication that the shingles vaccine, or any vaccine for that matter, has any effect on blood glucose control. The only common side effects from the shingles vaccine are headache and local reactions where you are injected, such as pain, itching, or swelling.

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If you’re considering this vaccine, you probably already know that shingles can be extremely painful, and developing shingles becomes more common with age. The shingles vaccine is recommended for everyone 60 and older. It is the best way to reduce your chance of getting shingles or, if you do get it, to reduce your chance of having the long-lasting pain (called postherpetic neuralgia) that continues after the shingles rash has disappeared and can debilitate someone for weeks, months, or even longer.

You should also know that there are two other vaccines recommended specifically for adults with diabetes: pneumococcal and hepatitis B vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent a serious infection that can lead to meningitis, sepsis, or pneumonia. It’s recommended for everyone 19 and older who has diabetes. The hepatitis B vaccine prevents liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer and is recommended for adults with diabetes who are 19 to 60 years old. And of course, an annual flu vaccine is important for all adults and children 6 months old and older.

Lastly, check whether you have had the Tdap vaccine — it protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough. All adults are advised to receive this vaccine, which is administered in three doses, the first two at least four weeks apart, and the third six to 12 months after the second.

As with all health-care choices, I urge you to consult the doctor or other healthcare provider who works with you to manage your diabetes and blood glucose levels before you get vaccinated. But I really do hope you’ll get that shingles vaccine — it can save you a lot of pain!

Want to learn more about diabetes and vaccines? Read “Three Vaccines That You Need…Now!” and “Should You Worry About Hepatitis B If You Have Diabetes?”