Far too few older adults have been vaccinated against shingles. According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, by 2014, less than 28% of people 60 and older had received a shot against this painful and sometimes debilitating disease.
There might be many reasons. Many doctors are more focused on children’s vaccinations than on those for adults. Not all insurance carriers have covered the shingles vaccination. But one other reason is that the only vaccine available up until recently has a less-than-stellar effectiveness rate. It prevents illness in about half of the vaccinated people, but the older a person is, theless protection they get. The effectiveness rate is 41 percent for people in their 70s, and only 18 percent for people older than 80. Still, with a million Americans getting shingles every year, the vaccine prevented many thousands of cases.
And many more Americans might be protected in the future, now that a new shingles vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Within five days of the approval in late October, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the panel that reviews the evidence on vaccinations, recommended that people 50 and older should get the new vaccine. That includes people who previously received the old vaccine. In coming months, the CDC is expected to formally adopt the recommendation.
Why? In studies conducted before approval, the new vaccine showed far more effectiveness. It prevented shingles in 97 percent of people ages 50 to 69, and in 91 percent of people 70 and older.
Like the older vaccine, however, the new one loses some of its protectiveness over time. According to a report by CNN, the older vaccine loses 15 to 25 percent of its effectiveness after the first year. A 2016 study found that its effectiveness waned to insignificance eight years after patients had been immunized. The newer one is still 85% effective up to four years after vaccination. Its effectiveness after longer periods isn’t known yet.
One thing that the older vaccine was always good at was preventing a complication of shingles called post-herpetic neuralgia, which can cause debilitating, burning pain that can last for months and even years. Even among vaccinated people who fell ill with shingles, though, the vaccine protected 66 percent of them against this difficult condition.
But the new vaccine does an even better job of protecting against post-herpetic neuralgia, CNN reported, preventing from occurring in 91 percent of vaccinated people age 50 and older.
It’s important to note that the new vaccine requires two doses, a couple of months apart.
Shingles is a reactivation of the chickenpox, usually many years after people were stricken with the disease more common to childhood. Only people who have had chickenpox can get shingles, which is another great reason to get children vaccinated against the disease.