New Shingles Vaccine
A new vaccine for shingles was approved by the FDA last Fall, with formal recommendations for use released from the CDC earlier this year. The most common question that has arisen regarding the shingles vaccine is, “Should I get the new vaccine?”
The short answer is “yes.”
The new medicine, called the Shingrix Vaccine, has multiple advantages over the old Zostavax vaccine. You should be aware of several differences between the new vaccine and the old one.
Most importantly, Shingrix Vaccine is considerably more effective than Zostavax. Zostavax reduces shingles episodes by about 50%, while Shingrix reduces shingles episodes by 90-95%. In older individuals, the difference in effectiveness is even greater.
Shingrix is NOT a live virus vaccine (Zostavax is), which means there should not be a danger of becoming ill if taking drugs that suppress your immune system, and it’s OK to receive if taking the equivalent of 20mg prednisone per day or less. Furthermore, there is no risk of becoming infected with the virus if you receive the vaccine despite not having chickenpox when you were younger. That being said, moderately or highly immunosuppressed patients (taking more than 20mg prednisone per day) have not been formally studied and the CDC does not have any recommendations for these individuals.
CDC recommends Shingrix
The CDC recommends Shingrix Vaccine for individuals over age 50. Previously Zostavax was primarily recommended starting at age 60 (although it was FDA approved down to age 50).
Shingrix is a 2-part series, with the 2nd booster shot being administered 2-6 months after the first one.
Because it is so much more effective, the CDC recommends Shingrix vaccine even if you had Zostavax in the past. You should still have Shingrix even if you had shingles in the past, though you should not have it while you are having a shingles outbreak. I have not heard of any unusual adverse effects with Shingrix, so far the biggest problem has been providers administering the vaccine incorrectly.
I have been told Shingrix vaccine is covered by Medicare as a Part D benefit, so for Medicare patients, the cost to you will depend on your Part D supplemental coverage. Shingrix is not available in our office, but I believe can be obtained through most of the major pharmacies in the area including Costco, Fred Meyer, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid.
I hope this information is helpful. Shingles is a very common and unfortunately rather painful problem, but now with Shingrix may be largely preventable. Please ask your primary care provider if you have additional questions about the new shingles vaccine.