What is Shingles (also known as Herpes Zoster and Zooster)? It’s a rash accompanied by the sense that your skin is on fire.
A light touch to the rash, such as by a single bed sheet, can be intolerable. It can be awful if it appears on your face. Even worse, it can cause permanent blindness if Shingles affects one of your eyes.
What is the Shingrix Vaccine?
It’s a breakthrough (over 90% effective) vaccine that the federal government recommends over the previous Shingles vaccine, Zostavax. The US Center for Disease Control recommends two doses of Shingrix for you, if you are 50 or older, even if you have already been vaccinated with Zostavax. The second dose should be 2 to 6 months after the first dose.
What Causes Shingles?
After chickenpox infection, the virus (Varicella zoster virus) lies dormant in your nerve cells for decades. When your immune system is weakened either from stress or illness, the virus cells multiply and migrate to your skin causing this terrible rash.
Is Shingles Contagious?
Essentially no. Even a close household contact cannot “catch” Shingles from another person.
Oddly, the viruses in the rash can spread chickenpox to those who are not immune to it. It’s especially important to avoid non-immune pregnant women if you have Shingles. Chickenpox can cause pneumonia in the mother and, rarely, birth defects in the baby.
Is Shingles Common or Rare?
An estimated 1 in 3 people will get Shingles in their lifetime. There approximately 1 million cases of Shingles in the US per year. Everyone (greater than 99%) 50 and over today has the chickenpox virus in their bodies.
What are the Side Effects of Shingrix?
It is not associated with severe health risks. However, like the tetanus shot, it often causes tenderness/soreness in the arm where it was injected. Up to half of those vaccinated will also experience an ill-feeling from the immune stimulation. These symptoms can be treated with ibuprofen or acetaminophen and can last for 1-3 days. Usually, you will be able to carry on with your normal activities.
Where can I be Vaccinated with Shingrix?
Either at your doctor’s office or at most local pharmacies. There has been overwhelming demand for this vaccine, so it has been out-of-stock and on backorder. Local pharmacies and doctor’s offices expect shipments this month.
What Does it Cost?
Is it covered by insurance? The out-of-pocket cost is a couple hundred dollars. Medicare covers the vaccine but with a co-pay which varies with your plan. Most private health insurance covers the vaccine, but some require a sizable co-pay.