Good news on the adult vaccination front: A new and superior shingles vaccine, Shingrix, manufactured by Glaxo SmithKline, has now been approved. Shingrix is more than 90% effective, as opposed to the around 50% effectiveness of the earlier version, Merck’s Zostavax. Also unlike Zostavax, the effectiveness of Shingrix doesn’t drop off dramatically among older individuals.
A few weeks ago I posted an essay about my sister’s experience with a relatively mild case of shingles, which I correctly attributed to her having been vaccinated with Zostavax. The operative word here is “relatively.” When I notified my family about the new and improved vaccine, her immediate response was, “Since studies have shown you can get shingles more than once, I will check it out. Having been there, [I advise you to] do what you can to avoid getting shingles!”
Because, as my sister noted, having shingles doesn't protect you from getting it again, the CDC is recommending that you have the Shingrix shot even if you've already had shingles. And even if you've already been inoculated with Zostavax, the CDC is recommending repeat vaccination with Shingrix.
A few comments. First, two doses of Shingrix are required, 2-6 months apart, as opposed to just one of Zostavax. Second, the side effects are a little more common and severe than those of Zostavax, so time your shot to allow 2-3 days to recover from being a little feverish and achy, and don’t schedule it just before an important event. Third, it is a little pricier than its predecessor - $280 for the two shots. (Medicare will cover Shingrix under Part D, not under Part B like the flu vaccine, which may favor being vaccinated in a pharmacy rather than a doctor's office.) I hope these drawbacks don’t reduce uptake but fear they will, given the shockingly low participation in the Zostavax program.
One additional point: Shingrix is recommended for everyone fifty and over, not sixty and over like Zostavax.