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The New Shingles Vaccine: Q & A

The New Shingles Vaccine: Q & A
November 30, 2018
The new shingles vaccine is very effective at preventing shingles
The new shingles vaccine is very effective at preventing shingles

Today I would like to answer some of the questions I have been getting from my patients about the new Shingles vaccine, Shingrix®.

Shingrix® was approved for use in October 2017. It offers up to 97% protection against contracting Shingles, a viral infection which can cause a very painful rash. It also helps prevent postherpetic neuralgia which can be a complication of shingles and cause lasting nerve pain.  CDC currently recommends two doses of Shingrix® separated by 2 to 6 months for adults age 50 years and older with a healthy immune system. The likelihood of getting shingles increases with age.  More than half of the estimated one million cases of shingles every year in the US occur in people 60 years and older.

Q: What if I already had a shingles vaccine or a shingles infection in the past?

A:  You should still get the Shingrix® vaccine. Shingles can recur and Shingrix® is now preferred over the previous shingles vaccine, Zostavax® which was only about 51% effective and even less so in the elderly. If you had a shingles outbreak very recently, you should further discuss the benefits of the vaccine with your provider. 

Q: What about side effects?

A: Because the new vaccine is more effective at stimulating the body’s immune response, side effects are also more likely. Local discomfort, redness or swelling at the injection site is fairly common and some people may experience mild flu-like symptoms including low fever, tiredness and generalized muscle aches. Fortunately, these all resolve within a few days and should not discourage you from getting your second dose. Side effects from the second dose may be similar but not worse.

Q: Why is the vaccine so hard to find?

A:  The positive sweeping recommendations from the CDC and public response were more than the manufacturer anticipated. Vaccine production has not been able to keep up with demand, resulting in patients being put on waiting lists. For now, providers can only order the vaccine in limited quantities. The process of developing and producing a vaccine takes many years, and discussions I’ve had with the manufacturer indicate that the shortage may endure for another few years at least.

Q: What if more than six months has elapsed since I received my first dose of Shingrix®?

A: You will not have to restart the vaccine series, but the CDC recommends getting your 2nd dose as soon as possible.

Anything that puts a stress on your immune system, including the holiday season, family gatherings or international travel can make you more susceptible to getting a shingles infection, so get your shingles shots if you can find them and have a safe and blessed holiday season.

- The TravelBug