Shingrix–The New Shingles Vaccine

The Food and Drug Administration and an advisory committee of the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention approved a new shingles vaccine in October 2017. Why is it important to prevent shingles? What was wrong with the old shingles vaccine Zostavax? Why is Shingrix better?

Why Is It Important to Prevent Shingles?

Shingles is a painful rash that occurs on one side of the body, usually on the trunk or face.  It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.  So, if you had chicken pox as a child, you are at risk for getting shingles as you get older.  This is because the virus remains in the body along nerve roots and, as you age, the immune system slows down, making you more susceptible to getting shingles.

Shingles comes from the Latin word “cingulus”, meaning girdle.  The shingles rash consists of blisters that form along a nerve path.  The blisters last about 7-10 days and eventually dry up and go away in 2-4 weeks.  The blisters create an intense burning sensation along the “girdle” or pathway of the nerve.  The reason for preventing shingles in the first place is to avoid the debilitating nerve pain that can persist for months, or even years.  The nerve pain, or neuralgia is difficult to control with pain medications.

A new vaccine is needed because Zostavax, prevents only 50% of shingles cases and 60% of cases with post-shingles neuralgia in those over age 60. Also, Zostavax is far less effective among elderly patients.  Dr. William Schaffner, a preventive disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine said “If you’re fortunate enough to reach your 80th birthday, you stand a one-in-three to one-in-two chance of shingles.”

The ability to prevent the majority of these cases—along with the risk of lingering and severe nerve pain is a major advance in public health.

Shingrex–The New Shingles Vaccine

The new vaccine, Shingrix, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration late in 2017 and is widely available to the American public now.  Broad insurance coverage will be available beginning April 2018.

Shingrix is most promising for older adults who do not maintain a strong response to vaccines.  In a study of people over the age of 70, Shingrix prevented 90% of shingles cases.  The new vaccine also appears to last longer than Zostavax.  Although there is not yet 11 years of data on Shingrix, some study samples showed it was still effective after six years.

Shingrix is given in two doses, six months apart.  The cost is estimated to be $280 for the two doses.  The side effects are usually mild and go away in a few days. They include pain and redness at the site of the injection, flu-like symptoms and stomach pain or an upset stomach.  Tylenol can help with any discomfort.

Who Should Get Shingrix?  If you are over 50, if you had the Zostavax vaccine, if you had shingles and, if you had chicken pox as a child., then you should get the new vaccine.

Who Should NOT Get Shingrix?  You should not get the new vaccine if you never had chicken pox (you should get a chicken pox vaccine), if you currently have shingles, if you have an allergic reaction to any of the ingredients in the vaccine, if you are pregnant or breast feeding or, if you are sick with a fever.

Ask your doctor about the benefits of Shingrix.  Dr. Shaffner said “Compared to shingles, a little arm pain for a day or so is a small price to pay. If you know people who’ve had this illness, you’ll be first in line for this vaccine.”  So roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated against shingles!

About the author:   Judy Grumbly, Principal of AGE, LLC is an experienced certified aging life care manager, an adult nurse practitioner and a licensed registered nurse. Her career path in home care has taken her from the city of Boston, to the mountains of Colorado, to the suburbs of Northern Virginia. In each setting, the mission was to help aging adults maintain their independence in the home setting through education, support with appropriate community resources and coordination of care. Judy is currently the President of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of Aging Life Care Association (ALCA) and on the Board of the Arlington Neighborhood Village.