Area facing shingles vaccine shortage

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Fort Wayne resident Ken Long receives the first dose of Shingrix vaccine at Walgreens, 330 W. State Blvd. LISA M. ESQUIVEL LONG

By Lisa M. Esquivel Long
For IN|fort wayne publications

FORT WAYNE — Nearly three years ago Doris Klug went to the hospital emergency room with a bothersome rash over her right eye and a feeling of malaise.

“It took them 2 seconds to tell it was shingles,” said Klug, 91, who lived in Pine Valley at the time.

After staying awake at night from the burning sensation near her eye and facing the possibility of blindness, she’s recovered, but has recurring symptoms from the viral infection.

“I still have residual pain,” she said, reaching for her eye, which appeared red and swollen.

Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster. Because almost all American adults have had chickenpox, they’re at risk of shingles. The virus can activate as the immune system’s effectiveness declines with age.

Shingles causes a painful red rash and blisters. For most sufferers, the rash is gone within a month. However, others like Klug experience postherpetic neuralgia, with the pain lasting for years. And because it can’t be cured, Klug said she can only “ride it out” and find some relief with an over-the-counter cream.

After seeing Klug’s experience, she said her daughter was “right in line” to get Shingrix, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended shingles vaccine approved by the FDA in October 2017.

The vaccine has proved so popular that its maker can’t keep up with demand.

Klug put her name on the waiting list at Kroger to get Shingrix, which has an up to 90 percent efficacy rate for lifetime protection. That high percentage point is one reason that Shingrix has proved so popular.

Another vaccine, Zostavax, a single dose that uses the weakened chickenpox virus, is most effective, at 64 percent, with ages 60-69. Its effectiveness is 51 percent for those 50-59 and declines at age 70.

Shingrix requires patients to get two doses, two to six months apart. That has some people nationwide worried about getting their second dose in time. However, the CDC, commenting in September on the vaccine shortage, doesn’t recommend restarting the series. It says patients should get the second dose as soon as possible.

GlaxoSmithKline has ramped up supply of Shingrix to the U.S in response to the demand.

“We have been shipping large volumes of vaccine every two to three weeks,” Sean Clements, a spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines, texted Nov. 9. “…We distributed a large shipment last week.”

The company plans to move to a twice-monthly shipping schedule starting in December.

GSK sends the vaccine to wholesalers and retailers, who in turn get it to retail pharmacies, Clements said.

A single dose of the vaccine costs $140 in the private sector, according to the CDC website. Many insurance plans cover the cost of the vaccine.

Walgreens, 330 W. State Blvd., called customers in early November to tell them Shingrix was available again.

However, the Allen County Department of Health’s clinic is still waiting for its July order of Shingrix, Susie Cisney, director of clinical services, said. The department started with 10 doses on its monthly orders, but Shingrix went quickly. The clinic holds onto the second dose for patients, Cisney said.

“The representative said they had no idea is was going to be so popular,” Cisney said.

Those seeking Shingrix should call ahead to a clinic or retail pharmacy to make sure the vaccine is in stock, retailers suggest.