The shingles vaccine
has been out since 2006, and so far it's
been well-accepted by seniors.
"If you're old enough, it's the best strategy to
prevent the illness," said Dr. Robert Penn, chief of
infectious disease in the department of medicine at
LSU Health Sciences Center.
shingle vaccine, Zostavax, is manufactured by Merck
and was approved by the Food and Drug Administration
in May 2006. The Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization
Practices voted to recommend it in October 2006 for
people age 60 and older.
According to Merck, 1 million doses of the vaccine
have been sold.
Shingles is a painful skin rash, often with blisters
that lasts from two to four weeks. For about one in
five people, severe pain — post-herpetic neuralgia —
can continue even after the rash clears up.
At least 1 million people a year in the United
States get shingles, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention.
"Shingles is most common in people older than 55,
but the older you are the higher at risk you are for
it," Penn said. "It's also common in immune
Zostavax is a single-dose "live" vaccine, meaning it
still contains tiny amounts of the live cells of the
But getting shingles from the shot has not been a
risk, said Penn.
"The most common side effects we've seen have been
mild discomfort at the site where the shot was
given," he said.
The shot is not, however, recommended for
immunocompromised individuals like those who are HIV
positive or taking chemotherapy.
Executive director at the Caddo Council on Aging
believes many seniors still don't know it's
available or that it's covered by the Medicare Part
D drug plan and many private insurances.
"The (Medicare) Part D co-pays are a little
different for each plan," said Mike Patton, a
pharmacist at Kroger's Mansfield branch, and one
location which is offering the vaccine. "And if they
are using Part D then we can use (Medicare) Part B
to pay for the administration cost."
If your Part D plan does not cover the vaccine, you
can ask for an "exception," suggests one Medicare
help columnist for seniors "Ask Marci," with
SeniorJournal.com. Your doctor will have to write a
letter stating the vaccine is medically necessary.
For others age 60 to 64, the cost is fairly expense,
$209.30 at Kroger Pharmacies, but Patton says many
private insurances also cover the vaccine.
"They may have to pay for the vaccine themselves but
most private insurances are paying the
reimbursement," Patton said. "I'd recommend calling
your insurance company and asking first."
Seniors should ask their doctors if they are good
candidates for the vaccine and where to get it.
Taking the vaccine at an age younger than 60 would
be a personal decision about how to spend your
health dollars, Penn said.
"Many healthy people will never have an episode of
shingles," Penn said.
Few doctor's offices will have the vaccine onsite
because of its requirements for storage.
"The vaccine is live and requires a subzero freezer
to store and it has to be reconstituted before it's
given," said Dr. Robert Savory of Family Medicine
and Geriatrics in Shreveport, who recommends the
vaccine to his geriatric patients. "Your doctor will
likely write a prescription and then you can take it
to a pharmacy that is providing the vaccine."
The vaccine is good news for baby boomers, many of
whom have had the chickenpox, a prerequisite in
getting shingles, which is caused by the same virus,
What happens is after you recover from chickenpox,
the virus does not leave your body, but continues to
live in some nerve cells. When it's activated, it
produces shingles, according to the CDC.
"We don't know exactly what triggers an outbreak but
one of the most important factors seems to be
something that reduces the body's immune control
over the virus like another illness or medications,"
Penn said. "Depending on which nerve its settled is
where you have the outbreak."
Usually people only have one episode of shingles,
said Penn, but a few people will get it again and in
a minority it can be very serious and debilitating.
"The chances of it being serious go up the older you
are when you get it," he said.
Studies on the vaccine show it reduces the risk of
getting shingles by 50 percent and it reduces the
risk of getting a more serious case by two-thirds.
"For those reasons we think the vaccine is useful,"
Since 1995 children have been given the chickenpox
vaccine, which is different then the shingles
vaccine, but researchers still believe this will
reduce the number of shingle cases as younger
generations get older.
"The information we do have so far looks like it
will reduce the risk (in these individuals)," Penn