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A new option to help prevent shingles

Published in For the Health of It Author: Todd Lemke, PharmD, CDE

1 in 3 get shingles, learn about the new vaccine for adults 50+

One million Americans a year get shingles and one’s risk of getting it increases with age. Learn how you can help protect yourself from a painful illness.

Editor’s Note: Late last year, the FDA approved a new shingles vaccine called Shingrix®. With the release of this new vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends people to become immunized for shingles starting at age 50. The CDC also has also designated the new vaccine as the preferred one for this disease.

To learn more about shingles and for more details on how the new vaccine works, we recently talked with Todd Lemke, PharmD, CDE. Dr. Lemke serves on CentraCare Health’s Global Immunizations Work Group.

Q: For starters, how common is shingles and what are the symptoms of the disease?

Dr. Lemke: It is estimated that one in three people in the United States will develop shingles at some point during their lives. It is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or the body that clears in two to four weeks. It can be very painful and other symptoms include fever, headache and chills.

Even after the shingles rash goes away, one in five people experience painful skin — a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia — afterward. And, even though it’s rare, it also is possible for shingles to impact one’s eye and cause loss of vision. It’s a disease all people should make an effort to avoid.

Q: How does one get shingles?

Dr. Lemke: Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. Most adults today had chickenpox when they were younger, but as you grow older — it’s believed that your body loses its ability to keep the virus dormant.

Some individuals may get shingles starting around age 50. But as you continue to age, one’s chances of it reemerging continue to increase.

Q: What is Shingrix and how is it different than the previous shingles vaccine?

Dr. Lemke: Previously, the CDC recommended waiting until age 60 to get the other shingles vaccine (Zostavax). Now with this new vaccine, that recommendation has been lowered to age 50.

Furthermore, the new vaccine is also more effective at preventing shingles. For those ages 50 to 69, it was 97 percent effective. For adults 70 and older, it was 91 percent effective.

Q: Who should get this new shingles vaccine?

Dr. Lemke: The CDC recommends healthy adults 50 and older get it even if:

  • You’ve previously had shingles
  • You previously got the other shingles vaccine (Zostavax)
  • You’re not sure if you have had the chickenpox

Q: How is this new shingles vaccine given and where can one go to get it?

Dr. Lemke: You should be able to get it at your doctor’s office or your local pharmacy. It is available at all three CentraCare Health pharmacies in St. Cloud.

The new vaccine is provided in two doses. After you get your first dose, you should plan to get your next one two to six months later. Make a plan with the health care provider, nurse or pharmacist for when you’ll get your second dose.

Q: How much will the new shingles vaccine cost?

Dr. Lemke: People 65 and older should have coverage for the vaccine through their Medicare Part D plans if given at a pharmacy. For others, contact your insurance so you can confirm what costs, if any, to expect.

Q: Where can I learn more?

Dr. Lemke: If you have questions about shingles and if the new shingles vaccine is right for you, contact your health care provider.

More information can be found from the following webpages from the CDC: