Shingles Vaccine: Should You Get One?

Shingles blisters Day 6, Characteristic purple...
Image via Wikipedia

How can shingles be both a rare orphan disease and be advertised for vaccination at my local pharmacy? 

Shingles is, as we all know, a side effect of the chicken-pox virus.  A member of the herpes family, it burrows its way into our nerve roots and hides out there.  According to the current theory, something trips up the immune system and the little virus starts getting active again.  The “lucky” people get cold sores, and the truly unfortunate get a blistered, flared rib that hurts like the devil.  If they are truly one of the chosen few, they get post-herpetic neuralgia, ongoing pain that continues after the flared tissue has quieted. 

Well, say no more!  Sign me up for that shot!  I’ll pay my $161 plus per shot gladly! 

Well, the major study (all studies listed at my website) was done on 38, 546 patients, over a three-year period.  During that time, seven of the patients on the vaccine got shingles, compared to twenty-four in the control group.  But the study results are “75% reduction in shingles” not “lower your risk of shingles from a fraction of one percent to an even smaller fraction of one percent.”  That wouldn’t sell vaccine, which we have available because we’re making vaccine for the chicken pox anyway. 

So it’s expensive, and shingles isn’t that common.  Still, if it does happen it would be extremely painful.  And there’s that post-neuralgia thing.  Yeah, the vaccine didn’t seem to help with that.  Maybe if they’d had more patients who got the disease we’d have a better idea. 

One more thing, in the last ten years some researchers have been tracking brain infections caused by herpes.  They found that in one young patient the herpes virus that caused his meningitis (serious brain disease) matched the strain used by the vaccine.  The DNA matched. 

Oh, and the under sixty crowd?  The FDA expanded its recommendations based on a Merck study.  The big study was done only on 60+.  And if you happen to be a minority (soon to be part of the U.S. majority) the study was done primarily on whites. 

So if you’re over sixty, I’d consider the vaccine and discuss your personal risk with your physician.  But I think we’re being a bit hasty with the 50+ recommendation. 


2 Replies to “Shingles Vaccine: Should You Get One?”

  1. There are a number out there, but the issues are a bit more complex than simply applying a single remedy. Many of the people I’ve seen with shingles have major “secondary” issues that require co-management. I would work first on any underlying systemic disorders that might predispose you to getting shingles rather than focusing on shingles prevention.

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