In January 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released its findings about Shingrix, a new shingles vaccine. Their recommendations were strongly favorable and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed.
Although Shingrix received strong approval from both agencies, many physicians held off on making their own recommendations. The vaccine underwent rigorous clinical trials, but most doctors wanted to see how the drug performed in the field, so to speak. The CDC agreed and continues monitoring long-term efficacy and safety. A year later, the drug continues performing at the levels both the CDC and FDA expected. This post looks at Shingrix, possible side effects, recommended doses, and Medicare coverage for the vaccine.
What Is Shingrix?
Shingrix is the first shingles vaccine in more than a decade, and the second in history to receive FDA approval. Both the CDC and FDA recommend Shingrix over Zostavax (more on why in a moment).
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is disease characterized by a blistering, painful rash that typically develops on one side of the patient’s face or body. The blisters usually scab over in a week to 10 days, with the rash clearing up completely within a month.
Also known as herpes zoster, the disease is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox: varicella zoster virus. The Shingrix vaccination helps protect against shingles as well as a painful condition known as postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This shingles-related complication strikes around 10 to 13 percent of shingles victims. And while shingles typically clears up in two to four weeks, PHN can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
The blisters are the main symptom of shingles. Patients may also experience chills or fever, headache, and upset stomach.
Is Shingles Contagious?
You cannot spread shingles to another person. However, if you have active shingles, you can spread the virus to someone who has never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine.
You can only spread the virus during the blister phase of the disease. Before the blisters appear and after they develop crusts (scab over), you are not infectious. To avoid spreading the virus, keep the rash covered. Also, avoid scratching or touching the rash and wash your hands often.
If you have shingles, avoid contact with people who have never had chickenpox or the chickenpox vaccine, particularly pregnant women. Infants are also susceptible, especially if they were premature. Finally, those who have a weakened immune system due to certain medications or conditions are more susceptible. This includes people with HIV, organ transplant recipients, and those taking immunosuppressive medications.
Can You Prevent Shingles?
Vaccination is the only protection against shingles, a disease whose main risk factors are age and a history of chickenpox.
The CDC recommends Shingrix for “healthy adults 50 years and older.” Patients should receive two doses, with the second dose occurring two to six months after the first.
Shingrix vs Zostavax
The government determined Shingrix to be more effective and for a wider age group than its predecessor, Zostavax. When you read the following chart, it’s easy to see why.
Older patients with a compromised immune system and those taking high-dose immunosuppressive drugs should not take Shingrix. However, this recommendation may change as more data becomes available.
Does Shingrix Have Side Effects?
Every vaccine has potential side effects. The most common are pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site. Patients may also experience headache, fever or chills, and upset stomach. You may recognize these as symptoms of shingles. Typically, side effects disappeared within three days during clinical trials.
The Shingrix Shortage
GlaxoSmithKline, the company that developed Shingrix, reported they were “overwhelmed” by the demand for Shingrix in 2018. As a result, many people report having difficulty getting the vaccine. The product’s remarkable effectiveness in preventing shingles is the purported reason demand was so much greater than the manufacturer expected. They increased production, but it still takes over six months to produce the vaccine.
The CDC predicted the shortage will continue throughout 2019. Consumers, however, report that persistence is the key to finding a pharmacy that has the vaccine in stock.
Does Medicare Cover Shingrix?
Original Medicare does not cover Shingrix. Medicare doesn’t cover most vaccinations. Flu and pneumococcal shots are the most popular vaccinations covered by Medicare Part B. However, your Medicare Part D plan may cover the vaccine. Talk to your plan provider to be sure. In addition, many Medicare Advantage plans cover vaccinations.
Do you have questions about your Medicare coverage? Our licensed agents are available to answer your questions and guide you through the program. Just call us toll-free at 855-350-8101.