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Published on December 11, 2017

A new shingles vaccine; is it more effective?A new shingles vaccine; is it more effective?

On October 20, the Food and Drug Administration approved Shingrix, a new and better vaccine for shingles. Just a few days later, an advisory panel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all adults age 50 and older get the new vaccine. The CDC also said that Shingrix is now the preferred vaccine to prevent shingles and the complications they cause.

The news caused a lot of buzz and both patients and physicians have been calling Cape Cod Healthcare pharmacies to see when the vaccine will be available, according to Angela Medeiros, director of the retail pharmacy at Cape Cod Hospital.

[RELATED: Should you get the shingles vaccine?]

“We have received so many questions because everyone knows somebody who has been affected by shingles, so most adults are afraid of the viral infection,” Medeiros said.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash that lasts for two to four weeks. The main symptom is pain, but sufferers may also experience fever, headaches, chills and an upset stomach. The condition is caused by the varicella zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox. The virus lies dormant near your spine and later in life can reactivate, causing shingles.

The CDC estimates that at least one out of three people in the U.S. will get shingles, most commonly after age 50. The risk increases with every decade of life and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.

Shingrix, which is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, is 97 percent effective in preventing shingles in adults ages 50 to 69 years old, and 91 percent effective in those 70 and older, according to the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

By comparison, the older shingles vaccine Zostavax was only 70 percent effective for those in their 50s and the numbers decreased from there: 64 percent effective in your 60s, 41 percent effective in your 70s, and a low of 18 percent in your 80s. Even so, doctors still recommended it because it helped lessened the severity of shingles and it decreased the incidence of post-herpetic neuralgia, an extremely painful condition that can persist after the shingles disappear.

Other differences in the vaccines are that Zostavax was a live vaccine that was administered subcutaneously, usually in the back of the arm, Medeiros said. Shingrix is not a live vaccine and will be administered into your deltoid muscle. People age 50 or older can get the first shot and then come back for the second shot two to six months later. The booster is one of the reasons the manufacturer is touting Shingrix as more effective.

[RELATED: Vaccinations aren’t just for kids]

“According to proposed guidelines, those two shots will offer lifetime protection,” she said. “The other good thing about Shingrix is it’s recommended for adults 50 and older, whereas the Zostavax was 60, so patients will have protection earlier.”

The only precaution against the vaccine is for those who are allergic to any of its components or those who have a severe allergic reaction to the first injection, she said. Non-serious adverse reactions include some local pain, redness and swelling. Some people experience fatigue and headaches but they go away within a few days.

Medeiros has reached out to her wholesaler and was told the vaccine should be available by the end of the year.

Pharmacies are still waiting for the CDC recommendations to be published. The CDC is expected to recommend Shingrix to patients who have already been vaccinated with Zostavax, but it has not clarified whether those people will need one dose of Shingrix or two.

Pharmacies are also waiting for the insurance contracts to come through, which should be in place by spring. Medeiros expects that most insurance companies will cover Shingrix.