I usually don’t discuss my personal health in this column, but this month will be an exception. Five years ago, I received a shingles vaccine, Zostavax, and then a few years later I developed shingles on my abdomen and then had several months of post shingles chronic pain. I couldn’t believe after receiving the vaccine that I could still get those painful blisters.
Now there’s a new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This new vaccine is far more effective at preventing shingles than the first shingles vaccine, Zostavax, which I had received a decade earlier. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that both men and women over the age of 50, including those previously immunized with Zostavax, should now get the new Shingrix vaccine.
The price is $280 for the two-part shot without insurance. All you need is a prescription from your doctor. Your local pharmacist can administer the vaccine. The cost may be higher if the vaccine is administered in a doctor’s office.
Many millions of Americans, especially those older than 40, are at risk for having an attack of shingles, which is caused by the very same virus that causes chickenpox. Once this virus, varicella zoster, infects a person, it may lie dormant for decades in nerve roots, ready to cause an outbreak of painful blisters anywhere on the body when the immune system is weakened, say, by stress, medication, trauma or disease. One-third of Americans eventually get shingles, but the risk rises with age. By age 85, half of adults will have had at least one outbreak of shingles.
Should you consider opting not to have the shingles vaccine, I suggest you consider the effects of shingles. It is a painful infection on one side of the body that can occur almost anywhere but most commonly involves the abdomen, chest or face. Initial symptoms of tingling or burning pain within days develop into a rash with very painful blisters.
The blisters heal in a week or two to form crusty scabs that eventually fall off. But for about 15 percent of people, shingles does not end there. Instead, it leaves them with chronic nerve pain — a condition called postherpetic neuralgia that can last for months or years and has no treatment or cure.
That’s not all. Although most people get shingles only once, it can happen again, especially if you have a weakened immune system, which most everyone does with advancing age.
Why the new vaccine? Zostavax, which over all reduces the risk of shingles by 51 percent. The new vaccine Shingrix can protect 97 percent of people in their 50s and 60s and 91 percent of those in their 70s and 80s. Shingrix appears to be longer lasting than Zostavax, which starts to lose its protection after three years.
A person should not get this shingles vaccine if:
1) He\she has ever had a life threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin, or any other component of the shingles vaccine.
2) Has a weakened immune system because of:
*HIV\AIDS or another disease that affects the immune system
*Treatment with drugs that affects the immune system, such as steroids *Cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy
3) Has active, untreated tuberculosis
4) Is pregnant or might be pregnant. Women should not become pregnant until at least 3 months after getting the shingles vaccine.
Bottom Line: Shingles is a common skin condition that is likely to affect millions of Americans over age 50. You can reduce the risk of shingles by obtaining a shingles vaccine, Shingrix. For more information about the shingles vaccine I suggest you contact your physician.