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Whitman Hospital and Medical Center

Shortage of new shingles vaccine also present in Pacific Northwest


August 2, 2018 | View PDF

Washington state and the rest of the Pacific Northwest are no exception to the nationwide shortage of the newer vaccine, Shingrix, that protects adults against shingles, a condition that causes a painful, blistery rash.

Heightened public awareness of shingles and an improved vaccine led to the shortage announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this summer, according to internist Saima Ahmad of WSU’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane.

When Shingrix became available this year, supply could not keep up with demand, leading to inventory shortages at pharmacies beginning in late May.

Shingrix is 90 percent effective in adults 50 and older. The former vaccine, Zostavax, is about 50 percent effective.

Shingles is a viral infection that typically causes a throbbing, burning rash for days or even weeks before it runs its course. The virus lurks inside the bodies of everyone who has contracted chickenpox.

“Certain conditions such as illness, a weakened immune system or stress can reactivate it years later as shingles,” Dr. Ahmad said. “Especially among older populations, it can be quite uncomfortable.”

The rash appears on the area of skin supplied by the nerve where the virus was silently residing. And though aging adults are more likely to develop the disease, young people sometimes get it but with milder symptoms, she explained.

One of the most common complications of shingles in people 50 and older is a deep, searing nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia that can linger long after the blisters subside. Less frequently, shingles near the eye can lead to blindness.

Shingles affects one in ten adults in their lifetime, according to the CDC. By recommending that healthy adults start receiving the new vaccine at age 50 ― a decade earlier than what was recommended for the previous vaccine, Zostavax ― it is hoped those statistics will drop significantly, said Ahmad.

The company that manufactures Shingrix is GlaxoSmithKline. Though it has increased production of the vaccine, some shortages are expected to continue through the rest of 2018.


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