NY Travel Clinic

The New Shingles Vaccine

Over the past decade, the shingles virus, Zostavax, has been heavily promoted both by the manufacturer and the CDC. In almost every medical magazine and online health forums, people over the age of 50 are being encouraged to get the shingles vaccine. Unfortunately, data reveal that the Zostavax shingles vaccine is only 55% effective and even this number may be exaggerated.

In fact, with the rising number of shingles cases, many healthcare workers are now doubtful if the shingles vaccine actually works. An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just announced the introduction of a new shingles vaccine to replace the one that has been around for a decade- and the reason they cite is that the old one was less effective.

The new vaccine called Shingrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline was approved by the FDA recently. It is indicated for people over the age of 50. The vaccine is now being given preference over Zostavax, marketed by Merck and been in use for ten years. Zostavax is indicated in people over the age for 60 for prevention of shingles.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is now recommending that adults who initially received the Zostavax vaccine should now get the Shingrix vaccine, again confirming concerns that the old vaccine never worked.

So far, the cost of the vaccine is in a state of flux; the price of the old Zostavax was $228 and the new Shingrix vaccine is going to cost $280 for 2 doses. So far, insurance companies have not given any indication that they will cover the cost of this new vaccine. Medicare Part A did not cover the cost of the Zostavax vaccine and it is not known if the same will apply to this new vaccine.

Based on data from the CDC, nearly 33% of the population past the age of 55 will contact shingles, which is an excruciatingly painful virus infection that presents with a rash and produces long-lasting nerve damage. The disorder also known as herpes zoster can present with a mild illness in some but in others, it can also be debilitating. The condition is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After the bout of chickenpox in childhood, the virus becomes a resident in our nerves. In some, the virus may become reactivated and presents as shingles. Unlike chickenpox, shingles are not contagious.

Each year, nearly 1 million cases of shingles are diagnosed in the US and seriously affect the quality of life of many people. It is hoped that this new vaccine will have better success than Zostavax.