Q: I simply can’t believe that you were able to get a full half page in today’s (Dec. 15) edition devoted to an article about shingles that fails to (even once) mention the significant shortage of the Shingrix vaccine. Did you even bother to look at this page? (Note: this CDC chart uses the alternative name zoster for shingles.)
Talk about poor research — or are you little more than the propaganda arm for a drug manufacturer that can’t seem to come close to providing supply to meet the demand?
M.S., Shaker Heights
A: Yes, there is a national shortage of Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine. However, locally, many pharmacies said they have adequate supplies. Yet there are some locations that have wait lists.
“GlaxoSmithKline didn’t foresee the unusually high demand of the vaccine when they brought it to market and have been trying to catch up since,” said Tom Roth, vice president of pharmacy at Marc’s.
Vaccine supply in NEOhio
While some area drug stores have waiting lists for the shingles vaccine, many do not. All of Marc’s 38 pharmacies have an adequate supply of the vaccine, with no waiting lists, Roth said.
A recent spot-check of area Walmart, Costco and Walgreens pharmacies found waiting lists at three out of 11 stores contacted. Waiting times varied from a few weeks to three months.
Sixty-six of the 76 Discount Drug Mart pharmacies have waiting lists, pharmacy operations director Jason Briscoe said in an email. “Most (of these stores) have first-dose-lists averaging 20 patients and second-dose-lists averaging 35 patients,” Briscoe said. “The second-dose-list carries a higher priority when we have patients due for their second dose.”
Go to https://vaccinefinder.org/ to use a Shingrix vaccine finder, but call the pharmacy first to check on supplies. If you need help paying for Shingrix, GSK’s patient assistance program may help.
Supply across the nation
Shingrix was introduced in 2017 and became the preferred shingles vaccine over the vaccine Zostavax. Health care providers recommended that people who had received Zostavax be re-vaccinated with Shingrix, which is more effective than Zostavax. This meant that demand for Shingrix rose quickly, explained Roth.
More than 11 million people have received the vaccine since it first became available in late 2017, according to GSK.
Shingrix is recommended for people 50 and older, while Zostavax is recommended for people 60 and older. The change in age recommendation created a bigger pool of potential customers, Roth said, which also contributed to the shortage.
Shingles is a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the body, often the face or torso. The rash consists of small blisters that typically scab over in seven to 10 days and clear up within two-to-four weeks. Some people run a fever, others don’t.
Shingrix is administered in two shots, given two-to-six months apart. Shortages have meant that some patients have had to wait longer to get the second shot, Roth said. If the second shot is delayed over six months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting it as soon as possible, but shouldn’t restart the series and or substitute Zostavax for the second dose of Shingrix.
GSK is taking steps to ramp up production of Shingrix in order to meet demand and shortages have begun to ease, Evan Berland, director of U.S. corporate communications at GSK, said in an email. But he stopped short of saying the shortages will end in 2020.
In April, GSK announced plans for a $100 million expansion of its manufacturing site in Hamilton, Montana, to increase production of key components of Shingrix. The expansion is expected to be completed in 2022, Berland said.
A French facility gained FDA approval in 2019 to produce the shingles vaccine, and the company has more than 20 similar expansion projects underway to increase supply, Berland said.
Here are more reader questions about shingles and Shingrix:
I seem to recall that (the old shingles vaccine) Zostavax only lasted 10 years, and you could only receive this vaccine once. Therefore, I choose not to get it. Are there similar limitations for Shingrix? I am 63 and in generally good health. I am currently still holding off on the vaccine. — Bill Colt, Novelty
The CDC says this about Zostavax: “Protection from (Zostravax) shingles vaccine lasts about five years, so adults vaccinated before they are 60 years old might not be protected later in life when the risk for shingles and its complications are greatest. Shingrix is recommended even for patients having previously received Zostavax.”
The CDC also states that Shingrix protection stays above 85% for at least the first four years after vaccination.
“The (Shingrix) vaccine has shown over 90% efficacy across all age groups in the prevention of shingles,” Dr. Thomas Breuer, senior vice president and chief medical officer of GSK Vaccines, said in a 2017 statement. “The risk and severity of shingles increases with age as the immune system loses the ability to mount a strong and effective response to infection. Shingrix was developed specifically to overcome the age-related decline in immunity.”
I might recommend that you double check on how Shingrix is priced. I just got my second dose in August and the cost was approximately $165 per dose at a Walgreen’s in-store clinic! When I was quoted $165, I assumed it was for both doses. It was not. I wish this was clarified as I certainly didn’t know. — Daniel Lange, Twinsburg
You are correct. The price is per dose, and yes, two shots are required.
In her column, patient advocacy writer Julie Washington will answer readers’ questions about navigating health-care systems. (She will not address individual treatments.) Your comments may be published in a future story or column. Send questions and comments for publication — including your name, city and daytime phone number — to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find Julie on Twitter @JulieEWash.
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