Shortage of shingles vaccine hits Columbus

The Bartholomew County Health Department and some local pharmacies have run out of the shingles vaccine Shingrix.

The shortage is believed to be linked to a nationwide shortage, local health officials said.

“We’re still waiting on our order,” said Amanda Organist, Bartholomew County Health Department director of nursing. “It should be in within the next couple shipments.”

Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash and blisters, typically around the torso, that can last for three to five weeks. Health officials say it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After an individual has the chickenpox, the virus lies inactive in nerve tissue near a person’s spinal cord and brain. Years later, the virus may reactivate as shingles.

Organist said the shingles vaccine has been “back-ordered for quite some time” and the health department is still waiting on an order it placed in November for 30 doses, which she said was the maximum amount the manufacturer was allowing at the time. Organist said shipment dates can vary, but the vaccine’s manufacturer, U.K.-based GlaxoSmithKline, or GSK, typically send out doses “every couple of weeks.”

“People can call and ask us to see if we have any in stock,” she said.

Shingrix has been in high demand since being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 and GSK has struggled to keep up, according to statements from the company. It is unclear when the manufacturer will be able to meet demand.

“Due to high levels of demand for GSK’s Shingrix vaccine, GSK has implemented order limits and providers have experienced shipping delays,” said the federal Centers for Disease Control on its website. “It is anticipated order limits and shipping delays will continue throughout 2019. In response, GSK plans to make even more doses available in the US in 2019. Additionally, GSK will continue to release doses to all customer types on a consistent and predictable schedule during 2019.”

In Columbus, the vaccine is currently hard to find and some local pharmacies have started placing people on waiting lists to get the vaccine.

“We actually have 100 people on a waiting list for it,” said Teresa Muckley, pharmacist at Walmart on Whitfield Drive. “We estimate a nine- to 12-months to get through the waiting list.”

Shingrix is 97 percent effective at preventing shingles in adults ages 50 to 69, according to the CDC. The vaccine is 91 percent effective in adults 70 years old and older, according to the federal government.

The previous shingles vaccine of choice, Zostavax, is around 51 percent effective, according to the CDC.

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Shingles is a viral infection that causes a painful skin rash and blisters, typically around the torso, that can last for three to five weeks, according to the National Institute on Aging.

The disease is caused by the reactivation of the varicella zoster virus — the same virus that causes chickenpox. After someone has the chickenpox, the virus lays dormant in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain and can reactivate years later. The risk of getting the disease increases as people get older.

People who are over the age of 50, have an immune system disorder or are undergoing cancer treatment may be at a heightened risk of getting the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.

While it isn’t a life-threatening condition, shingles can be very painful. Vaccines can help reduce the risk of shingles, while early treatment can help shorten a shingles infection and lessen the chance of complications.

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For more information about the shingles vaccination, visit: