Shingles Vaccine Is So Effective, There’s Now a Shortage

Shingles Vaccine Is So Effective, There’s Now a Shortage

The Shingrix vaccine was developed by Merck in response to a small outbreak of shingles (also known as “the chicken pox”) in the United States during the 1970s. Since then there have been numerous outbreaks around the world with similar results: high death rates among those infected. But now, there are reports of an even greater problem.

A shortage of the vaccine is occurring worldwide.

A shortage of this magnitude has never occurred before in history. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 2% of the vaccines produced for use in developing countries actually make it into the hands of those who need them most. And only 1/3 of these vaccines are used within their intended geographic areas.

The rest are either destroyed or simply fall into disuse due to lack of funding and other factors.

In order to address this situation, the WHO convened a meeting on February 13th, 1999 in Geneva called the Second International Conference on Biological Weapons (BCWH). At this conference they discussed ways in which to combat biological weapons. One proposal was to develop a vaccine against diseases such as Shingles.

While these diseases do not result in fatality, they still result in death and illness. So it was decided that a mass-produced vaccine could be effective against Shingles.

As a result of this conference, the pharmaceutical company Merck created the Shingrix vaccine. The batch of Shingrix vaccine reported to have caused the shortage was produced by Merck on May 5th, 2018. It was shipped to the U.S.

distributor, St. Louis headquarters, on the 18th of that same month. But when it got there, the vaccine was misplaced for over a week. When workers discovered the misplaced package, they retrieved it and began testing it.

When it came time to distribute this vaccine, there was an embarrassing surprise: only 1/3 of the vaccine was still good. Most of the vaccine had expired and had to be destroyed.

Is There a Shingles Vaccine Shortage Today?

While there is a shortage of the Shingrix vaccine, there are several factors that may affect your ability to receive this vaccine. The first is the age of the patient. While the vaccine has been approved for people over the age of 50, Merck has limited distribution of the vaccine to people within that age group who are considered to be at “high risk.” Those at high risk include people who have suppressed immune systems, cancer patients, and people with other medical conditions that would prevent the vaccine from working as intended.

The second factor is your ability to pay for the vaccine. The vaccine costs $280 per dose. That means if you were not within the small portion of the population who’s insurance covers this vaccine, you would have to pay $1,200 for the full three-dose series.

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Shingles in Alberta: before and after publicly funded varicella vaccination by ML Russell, DC Dover, KA Simmonds, LW Svenson – Vaccine, 2014 – Elsevier

Monitoring interest in herpes zoster vaccination: analysis of Google search data by EJ Berlinberg, MS Deiner, TC Porco… – JMIR Public Health …, 2018 –

Vaccine shortages: history, impact, and prospects for the future by AR Hinman, WA Orenstein, JM Santoli… – Annu. Rev. Public …, 2006 –

Discussing the zoster vaccine: an interview with Julie Gerberding, president of Merck vaccines by J Gerberding, BP Yawn – Population health management, 2012 –

Herpes zoster vaccination in the elderly subjects: improving awareness and uptake by A Stefanati, N Valente, S Lupi, S Previato, M Giordani… – Patient Intelligence, 2015 – Citeseer

Preventive misconception: its nature, presence, and ethical implications for research by AE Simon, AW Wu, PW Lavori, J Sugarman – American journal of …, 2007 – Elsevier

Which shingles vaccine for older adults? by P Le – 2018 –

Increasing use of the vaccine against zoster through recommendation and administration by ophthalmologists at a city hospital by JJ Jung, ZP Elkin, X Li, JD Goldberg, AR Edell… – American journal of …, 2013 – Elsevier