There’s some good news for people who have been frustrated trying to get the newer, far more effective vaccine against shingles: The manufacturer announced last month that it was investing $100 million in its manufacturing facility in Montana to help increase its ability to produce the vaccine. In addition, earlier this year it obtained permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to use a site in France to help boost production.
This is a promising development worth noting on National Senior Health and Fitness Day, which occurs today. Shingles tends to strike older people. Thankfully, this also tends to be a population that understands the value and importance of vaccination, perhaps because so many older people were round to see and experience the days before many modern vaccines were available. They also were young adults at the time that smallpox was eradicated worldwide because of the vaccine.
The new vaccine is recommended for people 50 and older.
But its popularity also has meant a long-running shortage of the vaccine, which was approved in 2017. And now, a recent study out of the University of Michigan’s Kellogg Eye Center has added a new reason to ask your doctor if he or she has access to the vaccine for you.
The study, which came out earlier this month, found that shingles of the eye is an increasingly common problem. In addition to debilitating pain, this condition can lead to permanent vision loss.
According to a press release released by the eye center:
Among a group of 21 million adults, occurrences of herpes zoster ophthalmicus (HZO), when shingles gets in the eyes, tripled during a 12-year-period, according to Kellogg Eye Center research presented at the 2019 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology annual meeting in Vancouver.
Study author Nakul Shekhawat, M.D., MPH, says it’s important to figure out which patients are at greatest risk for HZO and how to prevent it “because of the severity of the disease and potential sight-threatening complications.”
Even though caused by the same virus, shingles is different than chickenpox.
Years after recovering from chickenpox, the virus can become active again, causing shingles, a painful, debilitating infection that can lead to corneal scarring and blindness.
Kellogg researchers found that incidence of herpes zoster ophthalmicus across the United States rose substantially between 2004 and 2016, occurring in 9.4 cases per 100,000 people at the beginning of the study period and growing 3 fold to 30.1 cases per 100,000 by the end of the study period.
Shingles affecting the eye may be more of a problem for women and adults over age 75 (53 cases per 100,000), two groups with the highest rates of infection, the study showed.
White people appear significantly more likely to develop HZO, the researchers said. The lowest rate was among the Hispanic population, which was less than half as likely to be afflicted as non-Hispanic white people.
Two doses of the vaccine are more than 90% effective at preventing shingles. In addition, vaccinated people who do develop shingles are more likely to have a milder case.
If the vaccine shortage ends soon, that would mean a lot of people who would be spared the pain and possible vision loss from this terrible condition.