Should you get the new shingles vaccine?
Q: At a recent visit, my local pharmacist asked if I was up to date with my vaccinations. He told me there is a new shingles vaccine that was recently approved. Do I need this vaccine? What do I need to know about it?
A: In October, the FDA and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) approved a new adult vaccine called Shingrix. The Shingrix vaccine is given to help prevent shingles and related complications. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recently approved and recommended the vaccine for healthy adults 50 and older.
What is shingles?
Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. This is the same virus that causes chickenpox.
After you’ve had chickenpox (most likely in childhood), the virus remains in your body, but is inactive. Years later, the virus may be reactivated, resulting in a shingles infection.
What are the symptoms of shingles?
The signs and symptoms of shingles are typically present on only one side of your body. Pain is typically the first symptom of an infection.
Other symptoms include a blistering rash, numbness or burning, and possibly fever and headache. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor. Early treatment can help shorten how long you have the infection and lessen the chance of complications.
While shingles isn’t a life-threatening condition, its rash can be very painful. Long-term complications can include vision loss, if the rash is near an eye, or pain that continues long after the blisters have cleared.
This condition of chronic pain is known as post-herpetic neuralgia, and it occurs when damaged nerve fibers send exaggerated messages of pain from your skin to your brain.
Why should I get the new vaccine?
Getting a shingles vaccine is important because it can help prevent the shingles infection and reduce complications if you nonetheless get shingles.
Previously, the only shingles vaccine available was Zostavax, and it was recommended for adults 60 and older. This was a live, single dose vaccine administered under the skin in the upper arm. Since this was a live vaccine, made from a weaker strain of the virus that causes shingles, there was a potential for patients to experience side effects.
The new vaccine, Shingrix, is a non-live vaccine, so the possibility of having an adverse reaction is less. In addition, Shingrix has demonstrated over 90 percent efficacy. This is a considerable improvement compared to Zostavax, which is just over 50 percent effective.
Shingrix is now the preferred shingles vaccine. The vaccine is given in two doses into the muscle in the upper arm. After receiving your first dose, you will wait two to six months to receive the second dose.
Even if you have already been vaccinated with Zostavax, it is recommended that you also receive Shingrix to best protect yourself from shingles.
Who should get the vaccine?
People 50 or older should get the Shingrix shingles vaccine. You should get the vaccine whether or not you recall having had chickenpox.
Even if you have had shingles before, you can still receive the shingles vaccine to help prevent the disease’s recurrence. There is no maximum age for getting shingles vaccine.
Where can I get the vaccine?
Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions about the new shingles vaccine. Shingrix will be available in doctor’s offices and pharmacies in the near future.
It is expected that insurance companies will start covering the cost once the CDC formally accepts the Advisory Committee recommendations.
Amanda Johnson is a fourth-year Pharm.D. student at VCU school of Pharmacy. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology at Virginia Tech.