Saturday, January 22, 2011

The limitations of the Shingles Vaccine

The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, is generally only available for seniors above 60 years of age.  The vaccine is considered “off label,” meaning that medications are “prescribed by a practitioner for a purpose not listed on the products label, resulting in a cost of about $280 per vaccine.

In the US alone, there are about one million of cases each year, a rate of 1 in every three persons affected by shingles.  Those that have had chicken pox are most vulnerable because the herpes zoster virus is often reactivated.

Shingles is a virus that remains dormant in the nerve cells of the spinal cord and the most common symptom are a stripe of blisters that look similar to the shingles on a roof.  The effects of shingles can vary from minimal symptoms, to severe nerve endings damage and death that can lead to postherpetic neuralgia.  The pain can range any time between a few months to years.

However, the Zostavax vaccine, produced by Merck has many limitations in our current healthcare situation.  Many are not aware of the vaccine, and it is also not widely publicized because those on Medicare do not always qualify.  You must be over 65 years of age and under Plan D.  Even then, the shot costs $160 and reimbursement is a difficult proves.  To make matters worse, Zostavax must be prescribed and ordered from the pharmacy.  If the pharmacy does not administer the shot, the patient must return to the doctor’s office with the vaccination for it to be administered.  This makes the vaccination so much more inconvenient and must deter many patients and practitioners from following through with the vaccination.

Finally, Merck has stated that the vaccine is difficult to produce on a large scale because there is a limited amount of the live, but weakened chicken pox virus.  There are simply not enough vaccinations produced to be effectively administered.


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