THURSDAY, March 24, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- The Zostavax shingles vaccine is now approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people aged 50 and older.
FDA-sanctioned use of the vaccine, first approved in 2006, had been limited to people 60 and older. The expanded approval includes the about 200,000 people aged 50 to 59 who contract shingles each year, the agency said in a news release.
Shingles is caused by the same varicella-zoster virus that caused chickenpox when the affected people were younger. The virus lies dormant in the body until years later, when for reasons that aren't understood, it re-emerges as shingles -- commonly in older people with weakened immune systems.
Shingles is characterized by a painful blistery rash, often on one side of the body. In some people, the severe pain can last for months or years after shingles emerges, the FDA said.
The vaccine was clinically evaluated in some 22,000 people aged 50 to 59. Zostavax reduced the risk of acquiring shingles by about 70 percent, compared to people who received an inactive placebo, the agency said.
Commonly reported side effects of the vaccine included injection-site redness, pain and swelling.
Zostavax is manufactured by Merck & Co., based in Whitehouse Station, N.J.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about shingles.