One in three Americans get shingles in a lifetime. This number equals about one million people yearly. People 50 years and older have a rising chance of getting shingles as they age. Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus that causes chicken pox. The virus lays dormant on the nerves after having had chicken pox then years later erupts into usually a localized blister like rash that is painful, burning, and itchy. This rash in it’s worst forms if affecting the face can cause blindness or deafness. The shingles can last for weeks and for some the pain can last years or forever. When the pain is persistent this is known as post herpetic neuralgia. This chronic pain can be quite disabling and is seen in 10-30% of people who have had shingles. When practicing medicine I saw many cases of shingles and post herpetic neuralgia. When I was in office practice a new patient presented with post herpetic neuralgia pain that was so severe for so many years that he could not touch or wash the area that was affected and it was literally black from dirt. The severity of pain caused by this can require chronic pain management including nerve blocks. Because of this and how ill elders can become from shingles, vaccines have been developed. The Zostavax has been around for years and was recommended to be given to people 60 and older. In October of 2017 the Shingrix vaccine was approved by the FDA. It was one of the latest updates on immunizations from the CDC for adults. Unlike Zostavax, Shingrix is recommended for people 50 years and older and is given in 2 intramuscular shots 2-6 months apart. The shots should only be given to people who have normally functioning immune systems. The vaccines are usually covered by insurance. The Shingrix costs around $280 and the Zostavax costs around $213. If the vaccine is recommended by your doctor you can check with your insurance company and or pharmacy to see if the vaccine is covered.
The CDC is currently recommending Shingrix over Zostavax because it is felt to have better effectiveness and longer lasting protection into very old age. If you already had the Zostavax the CDC recommends and feels it to be safe to get re-vaccinated with Shingrix.
We as adults do a much better job of making sure our children receive the necessary vaccines to protect their health than we do getting vaccines to protect our health. Many over the age of 60 and now 50 have not gotten the shingles vaccine. In fact in 2016 only 33% of those 60 and older who should have gotten the vaccine got one. If you are 50 or older discuss with your doctor or other healthcare provider if you should receive a shingles vaccine!