Friday, June 1, 2018

Vaccine Breakthrough

By Richard L. Peatman, Pharm.D., Meadow Vista Pharmacy

Finally, a highly effective shingles vaccine called Shingrix® is now available and will prevent over 90% of shingles outbreaks.  The previously administered vaccine, Zostivax®, was frequently not effective.  There are typically no health restrictions on receiving the vaccine because, unlike the previous vaccine, which was a modified live virus, Shingrex® is an inactivated vaccine.  This means the shot does not cause an active infection, but instead just builds up a strong immune response.  A person receiving the new vaccine may be in close contact with children or immunocompromised adults without concern that they will spread the virus. 
The virus that causes chicken pox and herpes zoster is called varicella and people usually become infected as children and develop a case of chicken pox.  Once their immune system suppresses the virus, it lays dormant in neural ganglia.  A weakened immune system allows the virus to reactivate and spread along nerves and cause herpes zoster.  Unfortunately, zoster outbreaks can be serious and cause a very painful syndrome know as post-herpetic neuralgia.  While outbreaks typically involve the skin, other more dangerous infections involving the eye and central nervous system can occur.  As we age, our immune system may weaken to the point where the virus reactivates and causes herpes zoster.
Shingrix® is recommended for those who are 50 years of age or older and may be given to a person who has received the older vaccine or has had previous herpes zoster outbreaks.  The new vaccine comes as a 2 injection series.  The second immunization is given between 2 and 6 months after the first shot.  It is very important to receive the second injection at the proper time to maximize the effectiveness of the vaccine.  Individuals should check with their health insurance company to see if the vaccine is covered.  Unfortunately, basic Medicare does not cover the shots, but an individual's separate Medicare drug plan may cover part of the cost.  For those who want to pay for the vaccine themselves, the cost is about $150 for each shot and $300 for the full series.  Although Shingrix® is very safe, it frequently causes side effects:  pain (78%), redness (38.1%), swelling (25.9%), myalgia (44.7%), fatigue (44.5%), headache (37.7%), shivering (26.8%), fever (20.5%), and gastrointestinal symptoms (17.3%).  Symptoms typically last for 24 hours but may continue for 48 to 72 hours.
Shingrix® is truly a breakthrough vaccine and promises to end the scourge of herpes zoster.  Check with your healthcare professional for more information.

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