Depression May Reduce Response to Herpes Zoster Vaccine

February 20, 2013
herpes zoster vaccine

The herpes zoster vaccine is less effective in patients with untreated depression, but treatment with antidepressant medications can normalize patients’ immune responses, according to a longitudinal cohort study published in the online February 13 Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The Depression Substudy of the Shingles Prevention Study included 40 participants with major depressive disorder and 52 controls with no history of depression who were matched by age and sex. Michael R. Irwin, MD, of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience, and his colleagues, measured participants’ immune responses before they received the zoster vaccine, as well as six weeks, one year, and two years after vaccination. 

Results showed that participants with untreated depression had a lower immune response to the zoster vaccine than did control subjects without depression and participants taking antidepressants, even when the antidepressants did not reduce symptom severity.

According to the investigators, treatment with antidepressant medications is associated with normalization of immune responses in patients with depression. “Untreated depression may increase risk and severity of herpes zoster and reduce the efficacy of zoster vaccine,” they concluded.


—Lauren LeBano



1.     Irwin MR, Levin MJ, Laudenslager ML, et al. Varicella zoster virus—Specific immune responses to a herpes zoster vaccine in elderly recipients with major depression and the impact of antidepressant medications. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2013 Feb 13;[Epub ahead of print].