Vaccine Stops Shingles Before it Starts

The entrance to the new Emergency Center at Cape Cod Hospital has a “curtain wall” of 16-foot windows to let in natural light.

HYANNIS – On October 20, 2017 the Food and Drug Administration approved Shingrix, a new and better vaccine for shingles. Just a few days later, an advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all adults age 50 and older get the new vaccine. The CDC also said that Shingrix is now the preferred vaccine to prevent shingles and the complications they cause.

Up until now, the manufacturer was unable to keep up with the demand, creating a shortage of the vaccine nationwide. Now, pharmacies like those located at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis and Falmouth Hospital have ample supply of the new and improved vaccine.

“We have received so many inquiries in the pharmacies because everyone knows somebody who has been affected by shingles, so most adults are afraid of the viral infection,” said Angela Medeiros, director of retail pharmacy at Cape Cod Hospital.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that lasts for two to four weeks. The main symptom is pain, but sufferers may also experience fever, headaches, chills and an upset stomach. The condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lies dormant near your spine and later in life can reactivate, causing shingles.

The CDC estimates that at least one out of three people in the U.S. will get shingles, most commonly after age 50. The risk increases with every decade of life and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

Shingrix, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is 97 percent effective in preventing shingles in adults ages 50 to 69 years old, and 91 percent effective in those 70 and older, according to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

By comparison, the older shingles vaccine Zostavax was only 70 percent effective for those in their 50s and the numbers decreased from there: 64 percent effective in your 60s, 41 percent effective in your 70s, and a low of 18 percent in your 80s. Even so, doctors still recommended it because it helped lessened the severity of shingles and it decreased the incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia, an extremely painful condition that can persist after the shingles disappear.

Other differences in the vaccines are that Zostavax was a live vaccine that was administered subcutaneously, usually in the back of the arm, Medeiros said. Shingrix is not a live vaccine and will be administered into your deltoid muscle. People age 50 or older can get the first shot and then come back for the second shot two to six months later. The booster is one of the reasons the manufacturer is touting Shingrix as more effective.

“According to current guidelines, those two shots will offer lifetime protection,” she said. “The other good thing about Shingrix is it’s recommended for adults 50 and older, whereas the Zostavax was 60, so patients will have protection earlier.”

The only precaution against the vaccine is for those who are allergic to any of its components or those who have a severe allergic reaction to the first injection, she said. Non-serious adverse reactions include some local pain, redness and swelling. Some people experience fatigue and headaches but they go away within a few days.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends Shingrix to patients who have already been vaccinated with Zostavax. The cost for a Shingrix vaccine is between $150 and $200 (making the two-dose series $300-$400 total cost), and is covered by most insurance plans. It is billed through Medicare Part D and copays depend on individual coverage.

People over the age of 50 can go directly to Cape Cod Hospital or Falmouth Hospital retail pharmacy to obtain the Shingrix vaccine. Two shots are required, one immediately and the second within two to seven months. An immunizing pharmacist is always on hand at each pharmacy from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Most insurances cover the cost of the shots. Medicare Part D will cover it, with whatever copay a patient has with their particular plan.

People under the age of 50 should talk to their primary care provider about whether the Shingrix vaccine is right for them.

By LAURIE HIGGINS, Cape Cod Health News

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