Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rod McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
The shingles vaccine is recommended for people ages 50 and up, but I know folks in their 30s and 40s who’ve been laid low by this painful condition. Do you have to wait until you’re 50 to get vaccinated?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
The varicella-zoster virus, better known as chickenpox, causes shingles and its complications. If you’ve had chickenpox, which most of us over 30 have, the virus continues to lurk in your body.
When you’re young, your immune system tends to keep the virus in check. But as you age, your body’s defenses can break down, causing shingles, which typically brings a blistering skin rash that appears in a strip across the body, intense pain and flu-like symptoms that last for weeks.
Aging increases the likelihood of both shingles and severe complications. So, scientists have focused on preventing the infection in older adults.
In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine Shringrix for adults ages 50 and up. In clinical trials, the 2-shot series was more than 90% effective at preventing shingles in this group. Last year, the FDA expanded this to immunocompromised adults 18 and older, as they are at higher risk of getting shingles.
Anyone under 50 who’s not immunocompromised but is interested in the vaccine should talk to their doctor. Physicians may administer the vaccine “off-label” if they feel it is indicated. In this case, the vaccine is unlikely to be covered by insurance; expect to pay about $150 for each of the two doses.
Shringrix seems to confer long-lasting immunity, but researchers are still studying how long it persists.
Regardless of vaccination status, there is at least a small consolation prize for those who get shingles: Studies have found that no more than about 5% will have a second episode within a dozen years.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and your question may be answered in a future column!