Immunization experts are recommending a new shingles vaccine, Shingrix®, to replace an older shingles vaccine called Zostavax®.
Last week the FDA approved Shingrix, a new shingles vaccine manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). On the heels of that announcement, a federal panel of immunization experts voted to recommend Shingrix for all Americans age 50 and older.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is a panel of immunization experts who makes recommendations to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Yesterday, the experts voted to recommend Shingrix® for all Americans over 50 years old to reduce their risk of shingles. The panel also recommended that adults who have already received Zostavax® should be re-vaccinated with Shingrix®.
Zostavax is a live-attenuated vaccine, which means it uses a weak version of a live virus to stimulate the immune system. The problem is that the virus in Zostavax can potentially trigger severe shingles infections — or even death — in people with weak immune systems.
In comparison, Shingrix is a non-live vaccine that works by introducing a small part of the virus. The advantage of using Shingrix is that it is not capable of causing a life-threatening infection with the virus.
Shingrix is also far more effective. While Zostavax is only 51% effective at preventing shingles, Shingrix is 97% effective for people between 50 and 69 and 91% effective for people 70 or older.
Shingrix also remained at least 85% effective up to 4 years after vaccination. The longer-term effectiveness is unknown.
Shingles is essentially a re-activation of chicken pox. Most people get chicken pox as children and the virus remains dormant in the body. Later on in life, the same virus that causes chicken pox — Varicella zoster — re-activates decades later. The virus causing shingles in adults in their 50s or 60s instead of chicken pox.
The symptoms of shingles typically include a rash on one side of the body, blisters or vesicles, pain, itching, and tingling. It can affect the eyes and cause blindness. Furthermore, about 20% of people who get shingles develop chronic pain as a result of nerve damage in the skin, a condition called Post-Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN).
Doctors warn that it is important for people who are suffering from shingles to avoid physical contact with children or pregnant women.