If I were to conduct a poll and ask what thoughts come to mind when Fall is mentioned, I’d almost bet that cooler temperatures and leaves changing colors would be at the top of most lists.  At our house, anything “pumpkin” would also have to be included.  In fact, Shirley has already changed her morning coffee to pumpkin spice.  I dare say, however, hardly anyone would say Fall makes them think, “Great! Vaccine season is here!”  

No, this isn’t yet another article about the importance of getting your flu shot, although that should definitely be on your radar screen.  In fact, we’ve already seen some patients with the flu.  This is about a relatively new shingles vaccine called Shingrix®.  If you or anyone you know has ever had shingles, you already know how painful and debilitating it can be. The CDC states that Shingrix® is recommended for the prevention of herpes zoster (shingles) and related complications for adults with normal immune function aged 50 or older as well as adults who previously received the live zoster vaccine, Zostavax®, and is the preferred vaccine.

Shingles are due to the presence of the varicella zoster virus (VZV) in the body as a result of a case of chickenpox earlier in life.  While it’s pretty rare, one can also develop chickenpox by coming into direct contact with oozing blisters from someone who has an active case of shingles, and going forward, they have the virus in their body.  Just like the IRS, one can never get away from that virus – it stays with you all of your life and can rear its ugly head at any time.

As you might expect, increasing age does play into the shingles equation.  The Shingrix® website states, “An increase in age causes a natural decline in immunity.  As immune function declines, there is a reduction in the number and function of immune cells that prevent the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus.  This leads to a sharp increase in the incidence and complications of shingles.  By the age of 85 the lifetime risk of developing shingles rises from 33% to 50%.” 

Shingrix® is given as a 2-shot series, with the second dose administered 2 to 6 months after the original dose.  It is given in the deltoid muscle (upper outer arm) just like most other immunizations and can be given at the same time as your flu, tetanus, or pneumonia immunizations.  Full disclosure here, from personal experience and reports from patients, you will have a sore arm.  My arm was pretty sore for a good 3 or 4 days, and I felt pretty lousy for about 36 hours after my second dose.  But, it is absolutely, positively worth it!  Compared to the original Zostavax®, which was about 50% effective, Shingrix® has an effective rate of up to 97%.  I like those odds.

Now – the people in my age bracket will appreciate this – for the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.  Shingrix® is extremely hard to find.  To use football jargon, GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer, has outkicked their coverage.  The demand has far exceeded the supply and it will take them some time to catch up. 

This brings me to some important “takeaways” from this article for you.  At our pharmacy, we see prescriptions for Shingrix® practically every day, but you do not have to have a prescription to get it.  If you are 50 or older you do need to get this vaccine, even if you have had the original Zostavax® vaccine.  You do need to get this vaccine if you have had shingles before – just wait until the blisters and other symptoms have disappeared.  Finally, if you have started your series and the second dose is not available within the 2 to 6-month window, don’t panic.  The CDC says it will still be effective, as long as you get your second dose, but get it as soon as possible.  You do not have to restart the series.  

So, if you are over 50 and haven’t already done so, contact your pharmacy, preferably Smith Family Pharmacy     , and get on the waiting list.  We currently have 90 doses on backorder and expect them to start dribbling in.  We will call you and let you know when yours is available.