There’s a lot of good news about the vaccine to protect people against shingles. The new vaccine is far more effective than the old one, and appears to hold onto that effectiveness much longer. And in response, savvy Americans are lining up to get the two-shot series.
The problem is that right now, the front of the line is a long distance away.
The maker of the vaccine simply didn’t produce enough of it to meet the enthusiastic demand, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. “Due to high levels of demand … providers should anticipate ordering limits and intermittent shipping delays,” the agency warned doctors. The company “is currently working to make more doses available in the near term for the U.S. market in order to meet the demand for this vaccine.”
That would be an important development. As we reported last year, one in three Americans will get shingles, a very painful reactivation of the chickenpox virus, at some point in life. It generally lasts for at least a month, and can develop into a longer-term condition called post-herpetic neuralgia, in which the sensation of burning and aching, as well as sensitivity to touch, can continue for years.
The disease is more common in mature adults, which is why the CDC recommends the shingles vaccine for people older than 60. Yet until the new vaccine was approved by the FDA a year ago, only a third of people age 65 were vaccinated, partly because of cost, lack of doctor and patient education, and because the relatively low effectiveness rate of the old vaccine led many people to think it wasn’t worthwhile.
It was good enough to prevent about half of all cases, though the effectiveness waned sharply in ensuing years.
The numbers for the new vaccine were so impressive that within a couple of days of FDA approval, the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices recommended it over the old vaccine for patients 50 and older. Studies showed it prevented shingles in 97 percent of people ages 50 to 69, and in 91 percent of people 70 and older. Effectiveness does wane over time, but at least during the first few years, the fall-off seems far more gradual.
Both vaccines are effective at preventing more serious cases of shingles, but the new one was better at that, too.
It shouldn’t be surprising that people have embraced the new vaccine. Older Americans tend in general to have a more positive outlook on immunization than younger ones. Many of them experienced potentially serious diseases such as measles and are glad to see the numbers of this and many other vaccine-preventable illnesses plummet. Measles is no longer considered endemic to the United States, though there have been outbreaks among populations with low vaccination level. Older Americans also are more likely to know people who were crippled or killed by polio, which has been wiped out in this country by vaccination.
The New York Times reports that patients are particularly upset when they got the first dose of the two-dose anti-shingles series but then found that doctors were out of supply when it became time for their second shot. The second dose is supposed to be delivered two to six months after the first.
Larger shipments of the vaccine are going out, the Times reported, but it is not known when the supply will meet demand.
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