Yes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults age 50 or older be vaccinated. There is a new shingles vaccine on the market that is far superior to the older vaccine, so now is a great time to get vaccinated. Here is what you should know.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a burning, blistering, often excruciating skin rash that affects around one million Americans each year. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. The chickenpox virus that most people get as kids never leaves the body. It hides in the nerve cells near the spinal cord and, for some people, emerges later in the form of shingles.
In the U.S., nearly one out of every three people will develop shingles during their lifetime. While anyone who has had chickenpox can get shingles, it most commonly occurs in people over age 50 and people who have weakened immune systems. Note that you cannot catch shingles from someone else.
Early signs of the disease include pain, itching or tingling before a blistering rash appears several days later. The rash and symptoms can last up to four weeks. The rash typically occurs on one side of the body, often as a band of blisters that extends from the middle of your back around to the breastbone. It can also appear above an eye or on the side of the face or neck.
In addition to the rash, about 20% to 25% of those who develops shingles go on to develop severe nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) that can last for months or even years. In rare cases, shingles can also cause strokes, encephalitis, spinal cord damage and vision loss.
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new vaccine for shingles called Shingrix, which provides much better protection than the older vaccine, Zostavax. Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix is 97% effective in preventing shingles in people 50 to 69 years old, and 91% effective in those 70 and older.
By comparison, Zostavax is 70% effective for people in their 50s; 64% effective for those in their 60s; 41% effective for people in their 70s; and 18% effective for those in their 80s.
Shingrix is also better than Zostavax in preventing nerve pain that continues after a shingles rash has cleared — about 90% effective versus 65% effective.
Because of this enhanced protection, the CDC recommends that everyone age 50 and older receive the Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, two to six months apart.
Even if you have already had shingles, you still need these vaccinations because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.
You should also know that Shingrix can cause some adverse side effects for some people, including muscle pain, fatigue, headache, fever and upset stomach.
Shingrix — which costs around $280 for both doses — is (or will soon be) covered by insurance, including Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Be aware, however, that the shingles vaccines are not always well covered. So before getting vaccinated, call your provider to find out if it is covered and, if so, which pharmacies and doctors in your area you should use to ensure the best coverage.
If you do not have health insurance or are experiencing medical or financial hardship, you might qualify for GlaxoSmithKline’s Patient Assistance Program, which provides free vaccinations to those who are eligible.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.
Published May 11, 2018