It’s a new year…and with that comes new advances new medical breakthroughs. A new vaccine to prevent against Shingles was approved last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This really looks to be a breakthrough, so much so as Dr. William Shaffner, preventative disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine claims that with this new vaccine “the immune system of a 70-or 80-year-old responds as if the person were only 25-30.”
The new vaccine Shingrix, has been shown through international studies to prevent more than 90% of shingles cases, even at older ages. This is a big deal considering that the current shingles vaccine, Zostavax only prevents about half of shingles cases in those over age 60, and is far less effective among elderly patients. The effectiveness of Zostavax drops from 64% for people in their 60’s to 38% for those in their 70’s. Immunity starts to wane 5 years after receiving the vaccine. After 11 years the protection is close to zero! Whereas the new Shingrix vaccine prevented 90% of shingles in those 70 to well past 80.
Most older Americans have acquired shingles (varicella zoster virus) through childhood chickenpox, whether they knew they had the disease or not. The virus stays dormant and then erupts later in life. Different types of stressors are known to increase the risk of eruption, but the risk rises sharply after age 50. Getting shingles is hardly benign. Besides a very painful rash, it threatens to cause vision problems and lingering and debilitating nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia, that sometimes lasts months, even years after the initial rash fades.
What makes this new vaccine better?
1. It provides better protection against shingles from the start.
2. It’s protection lasts longer. So far, it remains effective for at least 6 years or longer.
3. It may protect people with compromised immune systems. Those with a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or transplants, or H.I.V. or taking steroids may be able to get the vaccine where the old vaccine was off limits.
Problems?? First, Shingrix requires 2 vaccines given at least 2 months apart. Second, it tends to be more painful and cause more swelling and redness in the arm for up to 2 days. For those over age 70, 8.5% can experience fatigue, fever or achy joints for 1- 2 days. Lastly, it will be pricier. It may be covered depending on your insurance and medicare coverage.
Is it worth the discomforts or price? Compared to weeks or years of shingles and its complications…it’s a small price to pay.