Up until July, two vaccines were available to prevent shingles. Now we are down to one option proven to be upwards of 90% effective against the debilitating and painful disease.
Yet access and availability has been a problem. Do you know where you can get the vaccine?
What is shingles?
The virus, varicella-zoster, is actually the reactivation of the same one causing chicken pox. Those itchy red spots you may have experienced as a child, especially pre-1995 when the vaccination made its debut. If this was you, the virus is still in your body, increasing your risk for shingles. According to the CDC, 99% of American adults age 40 and up have the virus. Yet 97% of adults are clueless as to the link between the two.
One million American adults get shingles annually, typically over age 50 though younger adults are not free of risk. Symptoms include acute pain, fever, fatigue, a hallmark burning rash and skin blisters. In severe cases the virus may progress into pneumonia, brain swelling, facial paralysis and nerve damage, even the loss of vision.
The cherry on top of an already rough infection? Once you make it through the estimated 3-5 week duration, you could start all over again. The dormant virus may be flipped on by stress or sickness, including COVID-19.
Tell me about the vaccine.
Essentially, this vaccine is created by “re-combining” parts of the virus DNA. The prior vaccine, now phased out, is comprised of the whole virus. Created using live attenuated, or weakened, virus DNA. Both types stimulate a strong immune response once the body recognizes the virus. Yet the recombinant version is less potent, hence two doses are needed, and is therefore found to be safe even among immunocompromised individuals.
Current research and major health organizations encourage the vaccine. As a bonus, it may also reduce the risk for stroke by 20% in those under the age of 80 years. Minimizing your likelihood for entering a hospital during a pandemic two-fold.
Is the vaccine available?
While there has been a shortage of the vaccine over the past couple of years, supply seems to be stabilizing.
My colleague, 53 years young, was encouraged to seek out the vaccine by her doctor at her recent well-check. The stumbling block? His office did not have one to offer. Instead, he informed her, “We don’t have the vaccine, but anytime you see it available in a ‘Minute Clinic’ or wherever, please get it.”
Thankfully, the generic advice worked for her. She was able to get vaccinated at the CVS Pharmacy in the Cary Walnut Street Target. Other corner pharmacies are offering the vaccine as well. Check out your local Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS or even the urgent care.
Concerned about the cost? Medicare Part D will cover the cost. Other health insurance plans will vary, though in my colleagues situation, her shot was covered with no co-pay.