Update April 2019: Shingrix is too popular and there is a shortage! Ask your pharmacy about getting on a waiting list so they can contact you when the vaccine is available again. It may be 6-8 months.
A new vaccine for shingles
I’m scheduled for an annual exam later this month. As I was perusing the long list of preventive health recommendations for adults, I noticed the shingles vaccine is being recommended for anyone age 50 or older.
I posted about the shingles vaccine a few years ago, and at that time it wasn’t considered worthwhile before 60. What changed?
Well, a new vaccine—Shingrix—appears to be superior to the old one.
Shingrix was approved by the FDA in late 2017, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) updated its vaccination recommendation in 2018.
While the old vaccine, Zostavax, is still available, the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) both recommend the new vaccine, Shingrix.
Why is Shingrix better?
Zostavax came to market in 2006 and was the first shingles vaccine, so it was certainly better than no vaccine at all. It wasn’t recommended for adults under 60 because it didn’t provide long-term protection. That is, if you received Zostavax as a 50 year old, you may not be immune by age 70.
Shingrix, on the other hand, is a stronger vaccine. Researchers are confident that it will provide a better, longer protection against shingles. That’s why the recommended age has been lowered to 50.
Why should adults get the shingles vaccine?
Although I’ve never had it, I’ve seen so many patients (and a few family members) really suffer with shingles. It’s painful! Worst case it affects the eyes, mouth and ears, and makes life miserable. It can also lead to a debilitating nerve condition called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).
Anyone who has had the chickenpox (varicella) or the chickenpox vaccine is at risk of developing shingles (zoster)—and that’s most adults.
The risk goes up as you age.
By the way, it’s weird but chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same herpes zoster virus, but when it’s chickenpox it’s called varicella, and when it’s shingles it’s called zoster. Don’t ask me why. Very confusing, though!
You may be interested: Adults need vaccinations, too!
I certainly plan on getting vaccinated.
Shingrix is given in 2 doses, the second one 2-6 months after the first.
Because the CDC and ACIP both recommend the vaccine at age 50, ACA-compliant health plans and Medicare part D should cover the cost in full. Always check with your insurance company first, however.