By Benjamin Kaplan, MD, Internal Medicine Physician at Orlando Health Physician Associates
One out of every three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime. The painful, blistery skin rash that appears on the chest is caused by the same virus that’s responsible for chickenpox. So, if you’ve ever had chickenpox, you’re at risk for shingles, which can last from two to four weeks.
The first shingles vaccine, Zostavax, was approved in 2006 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but a second newer drug is even more effective overall — 90 percent versus 50 percent for Zostavax. Called Shingrix, the new vaccine became available in late 2017 and maintains its effectiveness in the age group most at-risk for developing the disease. For those age 70 or older, Shingrix is 91 percent effective.
A two-dose vaccine, Shingrix is administered eight weeks apart. The vaccine also contains an immune system booster and may reduce a form of chronic nerve pain commonly associated with shingles. A clinical trial showed that the vaccine maintains its effectiveness for up to four years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends Shingrix for Americans 50 and older. However, not all health plans cover the vaccine’s cost, so check with your insurance provider first.
If you’re under age 60 and unsure of whether you’ve had chickenpox — or if you were previously vaccinated with Zostavax — talk to your doctor about whether you should get the Shingrix vaccine.
Seniors are at greater risk for compromised immune systems, so getting vaccinated could prevent you from getting sick or, if you do get shingles, reduce its severity.
Talk to your primary care doctor about whether you should receive the shingles vaccine. To find a primary care physician, call (321) 8HEALTH [(321) 843-2584] or visit OrlandoHealth.com/PrimaryCare.