Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018
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Editorials

Itching for more: Demand for shingles vaccine outstrips supply

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Anyone in middle age should be thinking of vaccinating against the shingles, a painful and incurable rash caused by the reactivation of the same virus that causes chickenpox. The preferred inoculation — licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a year ago — is highly effective.

If you can find it. And most people can’t.

There’s a national shortage of Shingrix, which has proven to be far more effective than the previously recommended shingles vaccination.

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Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has acknowledged it failed to anticipate the onslaught of demand. The result is a thin supply for now. That’s soon to change, though not quickly enough for thousands across the country. As supply has trickled, waiting lists have been penned at doctors’ offices and pharmacies as adults 50 and older clamor for the protection from a disease that is always uncomfortable and, in rare cases, can cause permanent nerve damage, hearing loss and blindness. One in three adults will be affected at some point in his life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The reason for the run on drug stores is twofold: The effectiveness of the vaccination has prompted many doctors to recommend their patients receive the vaccine, even if they already had been vaccinated previously with Zostavax, which has been available since 2006. Also, federal health officials now are recommending that healthy adults receive the vaccine at age 50, a decade earlier than the previous recommendation.

The CDC and the FDA are monitoring the production situation, as well they should.

While the wait for a recommended health protocol may be frustrating, it should not cause a panic. Some shortage will continue through year’s end, but GSK expects the shortage to abate next year. Doctors are assuring patients that those who are healthy, active and closer to middle age are not deemed at high risk and should feel comfortable waiting until the vaccine is more readily available.

This medical advance shouldn’t be overlooked by those of a “something” age. Sign up, then roll up a sleeve. But let the frail and elderly be first in line. The rest should put this vaccination on a to-do list for 2019.

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