Shingrix in high demand: Shingles vaccine up to 97 percent effective

Kim Fundingsland/MDN Lacey McNichols, First District Health Unit, holds a dose of Shingrix, a new vaccine that provides strong protection against a dreaded outbreak of shingles.

It’s a good one. A new vaccine is said to be up to 97 percent effective in preventing shingles. Shingrix has completed extensive testing with impressive results and is now available to the public. Sort of anyway.

The demand for Shingrix has been so high that the manufacturer can’t keep pace. At Minot’s First District Health Unit, Lacy McNichols, immunization coordinator, estimates that about 1,000 people have already received the vaccine. They are the fortunate ones as the supply of Shingrix is now very limited.

“We still have over 300 people that need their second dose,” said McNichols. “Right now I’d say people that want the vaccine should call us in the spring.”

Shingrix is given in two doses, from two to six months apart.

“The manufacturer can’t keep up because everybody is wanting it,” said McNichols. “Nationwide there’s a shortage right now. The distributors can’t keep up.”

Shingles is a painful condition that can emerge after years of lying dormant in a person’s body. It is caused by the chicken pox virus, meaning anyone who had chicken pox or was exposed to chicken pox is a likely candidate for developing shingles.

“There’s a one in three chance. It effects your nerves and can be debilitating. That nerve pain might never go away,” cautioned McNichols. “The older you get the worse your immune system gets. The good thing is that it’s really unheard of for a vaccine to be this effective, especially in older adults.”

The previous leading vaccine for the prevention of shingles was Zostavax. However, the effectiveness of Zostavax dwindled significantly in just a few years, putting many people who thought they were protected at high risk of getting shingles.

“This new vaccine is anywhere from 90 to 97 percent effective and, after seven years, still over 90 percent effective,” said McNichols. “It’s a much, much better vaccine. Because it is so much better it is recommended you get it even if you’ve had the old vaccine. It is for everybody 50 years of age and older.”

Shingrix costs about $180 per dose. McNichols says “most private insurance pays for it” but recommends a person check with their medical insurance provider to see for certain whether or not the Shingrix vaccine is covered by their individual policy.

While the vaccine is said to be remarkably effective, there are some possible side effects. According to studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control, the main effect has been soreness, redness and swelling at the location on the arm where the shot was given. About one in 10 people studied said the side effect was severe enough to disrupt their daily life.

“It varies depending on the person,” said McNichols. “Some say no problem and others get a very sore arm from it. It can radiate up into the neck too. Some people feel somewhat sick but it won’t last more than two or three days.”

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