Via The New York Times: No Excuses, People: Get the New Shingles Vaccine. Excerpt and then a comment:
Medical researchers and government health policymakers, a cautious lot, normally take pains to keep expectations modest when they’re discussing some new finding or treatment.
They warn about studies’ limitations. They point out what isn’t known. They emphasize that correlation doesn’t mean causation.
So it’s startling to hear prominent experts sound positively excited about a new shingles vaccine that an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved last month.
“This really is a sea change,” said Dr. Rafael Harpaz, a veteran shingles researcher at the C.D.C.
Dr. William Schaffner, preventive disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, said, “This vaccine has spectacular initial protection rates in every age group. The immune system of a 70- or 80-year-old responds as if the person were only 25 or 30.”
“This really looks to be a breakthrough in vaccinating older adults,” agreed Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, a physician and researcher at the National Institutes of Health.
What’s causing the enthusiasm: Shingrix, which the pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline intends to begin shipping this month. Large international trials have shown that the vaccine prevents more than 90 percent of shingles cases, even at older ages.
The currently available shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, only prevents about half of shingles cases in those over age 60 and has demonstrated far less effectiveness among elderly patients.
Yet those are the people most at risk for this blistering disease, with its often intense pain, its threat to vision and the associated nerve pain that sometimes last months, even years, after the initial rash fades.
Almost all older Americans harbor the varicella zoster virus that causes shingles; they acquired it with childhood chickenpox, whether they knew they had the disease or not.
The virus stays dormant until, for unknown reasons, it erupts decades later. The risk rises sharply after age 50. Shingles is hardly a minor menace.
“A million cases occur in the United States each and every year,” Dr. Schaffner said. “If you’re fortunate enough to reach your 80th birthday, you stand a one-in-three to one-in-two chance of shingles.”
My wife and I have both had the old vaccine. But a year ago she came down with shingles anyway. It was a wretched, painful condition that lasted for months; she still feels some pain. We will assuredly get the new vaccine as soon as it's available here.