The shingles vaccine, Shingrix, has not been keeping up with demands for more than a year, and now there is a nationwide shortage of the vaccine. Pharmacies and health clinics in states like Colorado, Montana, and Pennsylvania have joined waitlists to be first in line to receive shipments of the two-dose vaccine.
According to Amesh Adalja, infectious disease doctor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, the vaccine is in short supply because it’s extremely effective. The previous vaccine, Zostavax, had a 51 percent prevention rate until Shingrix, which is over 90 percent effective, came along about a decade ago.
“[Shingles] is a disease that people don’t want to experience if they can avoid it,” Adalja says, “because it is very painful. It can be debilitating, it can lead to chronic nerve damage, and it’s even been linked to increases in strokes and heart attacks.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults over age 50 receive two doses of the Shingrix vaccination, separated by a period of six months. Previously, the CDC recommended one dose of Zostavax for people age 60 and up. With an increased age pool and number of doses needed, this has led to “unprecedented demand that led to supply shocks.” On its website, the CDC states it does not expect an increase in shipments before the end of 2019.
Adalja says there is a silver lining to this shortage. “I think this is encouraging that we have such demand for a vaccine in an era that’s really been dominated by the anti-vaccine movement,” he says. “You have people [who] are embracing a vaccine the way it should be embraced.”
Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chicken pox. It lies dormant in the body for years, but as you age and your immune system begins to weaken, you’re at higher risk of the virus reactivating.
The virus is typically not life-threatening, but it can be very painful. Symptoms of shingles include:
- Red rash on one side of the face and body
- Pain, burning, numbness, or tingling
- Sensitivity to touch
- Sensitivity to light
Pain is typically the first symptom of shingles, but may be initially mistaken for problems with the heart, kidneys, or lungs. Permanent nerve and eye damage can result if the virus is left untreated.
Plan to end the shortage
Shingrix manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), delivered 12 million doses of the vaccine to the United States between 2017 and 2019. GSK spokesman, Sean Clements, said the company is planning more than 20 expansion projects to increase supply of the vaccine.
If you need the vaccine, you can use GSK’s online vaccine locator, which will identify pharmacies that have received recent deliveries.