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Winter Health

New shingles vaccine 90 percent effective in preventing the virus

Dec 07, 2017

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


From the time a person contracts chickenpox, a more sinister virus lies sleeping in the human body.

Shingles rises to the surface when a person’s immune system becomes stressed or weak, whether from getting older or other factors. While there is a vaccine to fight against shingles, there still is a 30 percent chance of developing the virus. However, with a new vaccine on the market at the end of this year, all that could change.

Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine, was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Oct. 20. It is the new recommendation in preventing shingles, with research showing it provides better protection several years down the road than the formerly recommended vaccine, Zostavax.

“The science was just there, especially when you are looking at protection,” said Bethany Kintigh, Iowa Department of Public Health Immunization program manager. “It’s just a better vaccine. It gives better protection to our adult population.”

The Shingrix vaccine has a 90 percent protection against shingles even four years after vaccination. Unlike Zostavax, Shingrix is a two-dose series, which is unusual for an adult vaccine. The second dose is supposed to be given two to six months after the first.

This is a small, yet valid, concern for health professionals administering Shingrix. Kintigh said this is the first vaccine for adults where a two-dose vaccine is recommended.

“We’ll monitor that to make sure people are getting back in (their doctors office for their second dose),” Kintigh said. “Especially in Iowa, we have a more elderly population. They are very good at going in and accessing the health care system.

“We have really good health care providers in Iowa,” Kintigh added.

There is no recommendation for a booster dose. However, Kintigh said the Center for Disease Control will continue to study the vaccine to determine if a booster will be recommended later on down the road.

Unfortunately, Kintigh said insurance has yet to start covering the Shingrix vaccine. She said it just takes a little time.


Why should you get vaccinated?

Although many people have hesitations about new vaccines, there were no major concerns with Shingrix in clinical trials, Kintigh said. The mildest side effect from the vaccine is pain in the arm where the shot was given, which is common with most vaccines.

Other side effects include pain, redness or swelling where the shot was given, muscle pain, fatigue, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches or shivering. These side effects only lasted one to two days. Although there were no serious, long-lasting side effects, the side effects did occur in about 17 people who received the vaccine, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDP).

With 30 percent of adults in the U.S. developing shingles at some point in their lives, Kintigh highly recommends people talk to their doctor about Shingrix.

“As age increases, total risk for shingles increases,” Kintigh said. “Especially people on immune suppressant drugs, they have such a greater risk of developing [shingles] faster because their immune system isn’t up to par.”

The CDC recommends the Zostavax vaccine for adults 60 years old and older, but over at Family Practice, Dr. Kent Metcalf recommends his patients to get a shingles vaccine when they turn 55 years old. The Shingrix vaccine that will replace Zostavax is now recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) for people 50 years old.

“We try to encourage people, you’re healthy, come in and see your doctor and talk about preventative testing,” Metcalf said. “I always say they should discuss the risks and benefits with their family doctor. I can’t say everyone should get this shot ‘or else.’”

Former Henry County Public Health Director Patti Sallee said that Public Health does not carry shingles vaccines because of the high cost and short shelf life. They do administer it, but by the time a client gets a prescription from their health care provider, picks it up from the pharmacy and pays the $5 fee for Public Health to administer it, it would have been more efficient to just have the vaccine administered by a client’s health care provider.


What does shingles look like?

Shingles is the same virus as the chickenpox, which is called the herpes virus, but it isn’t the sexually transmitted infection (STI) type of herpes, Metcalf explained. The virus lies dormant in your immune system for years. You get it when you’re a child, and when you’re older and your immune system is more stressed, a painful rash will rise to the surface.

“It happens on one side of your body and follows the nerve,” Metcalf said. “You can get a fever, headaches and an upset stomach.”

Kintigh and Metcalf both say that shingles is a very painful disease. Although the rash only lasts about a week, similarly to chickenpox, the nerve damage can follow a person years later.

Metcalf said the risk of long-term nerve damage if someone contracts shingles is way worse than any potential side effect Shingrix could cause. “The risk of having chronic pain from shingles, it’s better to do the preventative thing,” Metcalf said.

One concern Metcalf wants to make people aware of is that people with shingles can pass the chickenpox onto children who have not yet had the virus. “If you have shingles, you shouldn’t be around babies because you can give them the chickenpox,” he said.

While Shingrix is the new CDC recommendation for preventing shingles, “here’s the clutcher,” Metcalf said. The vaccine has yet to be shipped to pharmacies.

Kintigh said no worries, she hopes to see Shingrix being prescribed by doctors by the end of the year.

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