Jan. 10, 2019 -- More doses of Shingrix, the shingles vaccine that has been in very short supply, are on the way to U.S. pharmacies, says drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline.
For 2019, GSK says it is increasing the frequency and volume of doses shipped, with deliveries now going out to customers twice a month.
But demand may still outpace supply, says Sean Clements, GSK spokesman. Ordering limits are in place, meaning a single provider can't order a proportionally large amount of the vaccine so that the supply is kept equitable, he says.
"It's a demand situation, not a manufacturing issue," Clements says. In the United States, the shingles vaccine is recommended for about 115 million people, he says. The CDC recommends it for anyone 50 and older.
Earlier this week, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called attention to the shortage, saying that the ongoing partial government shutdown meant the FDA, with a limited staff, could not do anything to improve the situation.
Nearly 1 in 3 people in the U.S. will develop shingles, according to the CDC. About 1 million cases happen each year. Also known as zoster or herpes zoster, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox -- varicella zoster virus. After people recover from chickenpox, the virus remains dormant in the body and can reactivate many years later, leading to shingles.
Nearly all Americans born before 1980 have had chickenpox, the CDC says.
Shingles involves pain, itching, or tingling of the skin, with a painful rash of blister-like sores, usually on one side of the body. Shingles often affects the torso or face, the CDC says. Besides the rash, there can be headache, chills, fever and upset stomach. About 10% of those who get shingles have persistent nerve pain for months or even years after being affected, a condition called postherpetic neuralgia.
Reducing the Risk
Shingrix, approved by the FDA in October 2017, is a two-dose vaccine that reduces the risk of getting shingles by more than 90%. The second dose is recommended within 2 to 6 months of the initial dose.
Because of the shortage, some people have not been able to get the second dose.
Clements says he is unable to say how effective a single dose is.
Aaron Glatt, MD, a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, says he gets questions often from those who got the first dose but are unable to find the second. He tells them to sit tight, and when it does arrive, simply get the second dose, even if it's beyond the recommended 2 to 6 months after the original dose. "In general with vaccines, we don't recommend restarting the vaccine," says Glatt, chair of the department of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital, Oceanside, NY.
The Shingrix vaccine is recommended by the CDC even in those who already had shingles, as you can get the disease more than once. The risk of getting shingles and of complications both rise with age. Shingrix is also recommended for people who got a previous shingles vaccine, Zostavax.
Finding the Vaccine, Paying for It
GSK has a vaccine locator on the Shingrix site, searchable by ZIP code. However, GSK recommends calling your doctor or pharmacy first, as the vaccine supply is sometimes depleted more quickly than the site can be updated.
Coverage for the vaccine varies, Clements says, but he estimates there are ''over 90% of commercial insurance plans and Medicare Part D covering it." Some plans may have a copay, he says, which can range from about $10 to $50.
When getting the first dose, you can try to schedule an appointment for the second or ask your doctor to put you on a waiting list.
Pharmacies in areas with fewer residents over 50 may be more likely to have stocks of the vaccine than communities with many older adult residents.
Production of the vaccine typically takes from 6 to 9 months, GSK says, but some of the critical elements were produced even before the FDA approval, so the production cycle could be shortened somewhat. By the end of September 2018, nearly 7 million doses of the vaccine had been given globally since the launch, the company says.