The odds of protecting yourself against the painful shingles infection have almost doubled with the introduction of a new vaccine for people over the age of 50.
“One in every three adults will develop shingles at some point and, over the age of 85, 50 percent of the population will develop it,” notes Christina McLean, MD, a primary care physician with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Old Lyme.
The Shingrix vaccine, recently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control for all people over 50, is a two-dose regimen delivered two to six months apart. Only adults with a current shingles infection, who might be pregnant or breastfeeding, who have a fever or who are immunocompromised should not get the vaccine. The existing vaccine, Zostavax, is recommended for people over 60.
“The effectiveness of the Shingrix is its best feature. It gives more than 90-percent protection against getting shingles,” Dr. McLean explains. “Zostavax only provides 51 percent protection against getting shingles.”
Shingles is caused by the varicella zoster virus which also causes chickenpox. The virus stays inactive in the body after a person recovers from chickenpox and can then reactivate years later as shingles. The cause of the virus’s return isn’t known yet but shingles can cause a painful, blistering rash that can cause lingering complications such as post-herpetic neuralgia, a severe pain that can last for years.
Shingrix also offers about 90 percent protection against post-herpetic neuralgia, according to Dr. McLean, who added that Zostavax only offers a 67 percent reduction.
Hartford HealthCare primary care practices recommend the more effective Shingrix and will have it available for patients this month. Patients who have had the Zostavax vaccine in the past or a prior history of shingles can get the new vaccine. Patients with Medicare D can get the vaccine at their pharmacies, Dr. McLean says.
You can talk with your primary care provider about getting the new shingles vaccine. If you do not have one, visit the Backus Hospital website for a list of those accepting new patients in your area.