New Shingles Vaccine to Help Older Adults, Shows 90% Effectiveness Rate

Shingles is a tricky thing which affects a number of older adults. Nowadays there is only one shingles vaccine available: it’s called Zostavax, and its effectiveness is rather unimpressive, because it proves to prevent about 50% of shingles cases in patients who are older than sixty years old, with even worse performance among the elderly. Yet a new vaccine, which has recently been approved by the FDA, challenges its predecessor and shows a 90% effectiveness rate among older adults.

Image Credit: Sherry Yates Young /

Why Is Shingles So Bad?

Although the new vaccine’s name looks like a new cleaning liquid brand, it is promising and has even been called a sea change, as, unlike the previous vaccine, it does not cease to fight the virus.

Shingles is a threat because of the vision issues it may cause, intense pain felt during the acute period, and nerve pain which is most debilitating, since it can persist for months. This condition is known as postherpetic neuralgia.

The varicella zoster virus that causes the disease is generally acquired as a bonus that comes with chickenpox, one of the most common childhood diseases. It is highly contagious, and the chance you can experience it is very high, so the majority of US citizens have dormant zoster viruses in them, which wake up when their masters turn 50 or so.

The new vaccine is also a good option for those who used to be vaccinated with Zostavax, as Shingrix proved to be safe for this category of patients too.

Why is Shingrix so good?

Shingrix is about to hit the market: it is expected to be available in early 2018. The Medicare and Medicaid will cover the vaccine, it is claimed, and Europe, Japan and Australia are on their way to approve Shingrix.

Unlike Zostavax, which almost ceased to work after 11 years, the new vaccine proves to be as effective as it used to be after 6 years, which makes researchers think it can last much longer. The effectiveness is also impressive: it’s 97% in those over age 50, and 90% in patients aged 70-to-80 and even older. The elderly tend to respond to vaccines worse, so this result is considered to be a breakthrough. Besides, it can help those whose immune system is compromised.

Associated Challenges

There are three reasons why some may find Shingrix a poor option.

  • First, it takes two doses administered with a gap of at least 2 months. According to statistics, only 31% of those who are older than 60 are vaccinated against shingles, so persuading people to use a vaccine that requires two injections can be a challenge.
  • Second, the side effects are very unpleasant. Almost all patients who tested the vaccine said they felt pain in the arm which lasted for a day or two; some reported swelling and redness, while others complained about experiencing joint aching, fatigue and fever. Compared to the debilitating pain associated with shingles, it’s not a terrible price to pay, but these side effects can still irritate the elderly.
  • Third, it is pricey. Despite being covered by Medicare Part D, patients will still have to face co-payments and other things preventing them from getting the vaccine straightaway and making them go to a pharmacy. As it is even more expensive than Zostavax (the most expensive vaccine!), the price of Shingrix can make up around $200.

Whatever the challenges, Shingrix can help those prone to this disease avoid the painful symptoms, but the vaccine accessibility is a major thing to revise, because without affordable ways to use it, it cannot reach its audience.

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