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Local experts welcome new shingles vaccine

The Daily Star - 11/15/2017

Nov. 15--A new vaccine for shingles is expected to begin shipment this month, and has been hailed by prominent experts as a breakthrough in preventing the reactivation of the chickenpox virus that causes a painful rash.

Nearly all older Americans harbor the varicella zoster virus, and one in three people will get shingles in their lifetime, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- a statistic pharmaceutical companies have broadcast in commercials in recent years.

The vaccine Zostavax has been available since 2006 and prevents about half of shingles cases in those over age 60, but is less effective among elderly patients, who have the highest risk. Just 31 percent of people over 60 have been vaccinated, according to the CDC.

The new vaccine, called Shingrix and developed by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline, has been shown in large international trials to prevent more than 90 percent of shingles cases, even at older ages.

Robert Waghorn of Oneonta will be 83 next week; he said he had no idea what the blistering rash was when he got shingles two years ago.

"It was a pain, let me put it that way," he said.

Prescription medication helped him heal in about a week, but some people are not so lucky; it's estimated that up to one in five experience lingering nerve pain, called postherpetic neuralgia.

"We've been pushing it," pharmacist Marcia Ruland said of the existing vaccine, adding that her Rite Aid on Chestnut Street in Oneonta has administered more of the shots in recent years, and that people seem to be more aware of shingles in general.

According to Dr. Douglas DeLong, chief of primary care at Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, patients are already asking about the new vaccine. He described the current vaccine as "effective, but not very effective," noting that it does decrease the risk of nerve pain by about two-thirds.

DeLong said he was vaccinated at age 60, but later had a very mild case of shingles. Shingrix is being recommended for people who have already been vaccinated, and is expected to be available to those with compromised immune systems, for whom the current vaccine is off limits. Immune suppression itself leaves people vulnerable to shingles.

A study of Shingrix in people over age 70 saw a 90 percent prevention rate up to well past age 80.

Medicare will cover the vaccine under Part D like its predecessor, which is the most expensive adult vaccine. Not everyone with Medicare has Part D, and some could still face co-payments.

Another potential problem is that Shingrix requires two doses, administered at least two months apart. DeLong said he doesn't foresee that keeping people from getting the vaccine, especially those who have known someone who had shingles.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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(c)2017 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

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