Shingles vaccine dramatically reduces risk of outbreaks

Readers of this blog know of my fondness for immunizations. For my patients, I recommended the shingles vaccine for people 60 years of age or older and the chicken pox vaccine for children. Unfortunately, both vaccines are quite underutilized. For those of you who are unvaccinated against the varicella zoster virus, I hope this blog will help you to consider updating your vaccinations.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association involved more than 300,000 elderly patients and showed that the underutilized herpes zoster vaccine reduced the incidence of painful shingles outbreaks by 55%, even in the oldest populations.

The Los Angeles Times reports that shingles, “a painful rash brought on by the varicella zoster virus,” may precipitate painful post-herpetic neuralgia and may also “cause vision loss if it spreads to the eyes.” There is no cure for the condition, which is precipitated by the same virus that causes chickenpox.

USA Today reports, “Everyone over 60 should be vaccinated against shingles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.”

The study, which was co-written by researchers from the CDC and Kaiser Permanente, pointed out that “nearly one out of three people in the USA will develop shingles, a painful and potentially serious condition also known as herpes zoster.”

Despite that fact, “only 10% of those 60 and older — the group most at risk for shingles — got the vaccine (Zostavax) in 2009.”

USA Today explains that some insurance and Medicare plans do not cover the cost of the vaccine, which ranges in price from $150 to $300.

This might be one reason why the vaccine is underutilized.

Bloomberg News reports that after comparing “75,761 members of Kaiser Permanente who received Zostavax with 227,283 unvaccinated members,” researchers “found that one episode of shingles would be averted for every 71 people who receive the vaccine.”

Based on the study’s findings and the fact that the incidence of shingles will increase as baby boomers age, family-practice physician Juanita Watts, of Kaiser Permanente’s office in Glendale, CA, “said anyone 60 and older, including people who’ve had shingles before, can get the vaccine as long as they don’t suffer from an illness that affects their immune system.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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