By Linda Weiford, WSU News
SPOKANE, Wash. – If you’re hoping to get the new shingles vaccine shot, join the crowd.
Washington state and the rest of the Pacific Northwest are no exception to the nationwide shortage of the newer vaccine that protects adults against the condition that causes a painful, blistery rash.
Heightened public awareness of shingles and an improved vaccine to fend it off led to the shortage announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this summer, according to internist Saima Ahmad of Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
When Shingrix became available this year, supply could not keep up with demand, she said, leading to inventory shortages at pharmacies beginning in late May.
“The shortage, which is temporary, is actually a good sign. It shows that the public is better informed about the risks of developing shingles and that this new vaccine offers a high rate of protection,” she explained.
Shingrix is 90 percent effective in adults 50 and older. The old vaccine, Zostavax, is about 50 percent effective, the CDC states.
Shingles is a viral infection that typically causes a throbbing, burning rash for days or even weeks before it runs its course. In a mean trick of nature, the virus lurks inside the bodies of everyone who has contracted chickenpox.
“For most people who have had chickenpox, the virus goes dormant in the nerve cells. Then, certain conditions such as illness, a weakened immune system or stress can reactivate it years later as shingles,” Dr. Ahmad said.
“Especially among older populations, it can be quite uncomfortable,” she said.
The rash appears on the area of skin supplied by the nerve where the virus was silently residing. And though aging adults are more likely to develop the disease, young people sometimes get it but with milder symptoms, she explained.
One of the most common complications of shingles in people 50 and older is a deep, searing nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia that can linger long after the blisters subside. Less frequently, shingles near the eye can lead to blindness.
Shingles affects 1 in 3 adults in their lifetime, according to the CDC. By recommending that healthy adults start receiving the new vaccine at age 50 — a decade earlier than what was recommended for the previous vaccine Zostavax — it’s hoped those statistics will drop significantly, said Ahmad.
“Preventing shingles and its complications would represent a big advance in public health,” she said.
The company that manufactures Shingrix is GlaxoSmithKline. Though it has increased production of the vaccine, some degree of shortages are expected to continue through the rest of 2018, according to the CDC website.