Medical Research: What are the main findings of the study?
Dr. Tartof: Our study found that the herpes zoster vaccine continues to be effective in protecting older adults against shingles, even after they undergo chemotherapy. In particular, we found that those patients who were previously vaccinated with the vaccine were 42 percent less likely to develop shingles following chemotherapy treatment. We also found that none of our vaccinated patients underwent hospitalization for shingles, while six unvaccinated patients were hospitalized with the disease.
Medical Research: Were any of the findings unexpected?
Dr. Tartof: The zoster vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in elderly adults with healthy immune systems but until now, there has been a lack of data on whether the vaccine remains safe and effective for individuals who might have compromised immune systems resulting from treatments like chemotherapy. Our study demonstrates that older patients who had previously been vaccinated against shingles have a lower chance of developing this painful and often debilitating disease even after undergoing chemotherapy.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Tartof: The key takeaway is that health care providers should definitely talk to their older patients about the availability and efficacy of the shingles vaccine so that they can receive it when they are still able to. This is especially important for those patients who are 60 years of age or older as the risk of developing cancer is relatively high for this group. These patients should be vaccinated when they are relatively healthy, or before starting immunocompromising treatments such as chemotherapy, as the vaccine isn’t advised for those who have weakened immune systems.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Tartof: Future research could focus on following these patients beyond the five-year period that was included in this study to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine over a longer time frame. In addition, researchers could focus on looking beyond chemotherapy to determine whether our findings would hold true for other types of immunosuppression treatments.
Vaccination Against Zoster Remains Effective in Older Adults Who Later Undergo Chemotherapy
Hung Fu Tseng, Sara Tartof, Rafael Harpaz, Yi Luo, Lina S. Sy, Rulin C. Hetcher, and Steven J. Jacobsen