New Shingles Vaccine Shares Spotlight with ‘Hamilton’

Premier Health Now

Broadway composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, who gave Alexander Hamilton a much celebrated encore, also brought the viral disease shingles back in the spotlight with a couple of recent tweets.

His tweets about having shingles and quarantining himself in his parents’ home, to protect his and his wife’s baby from the virus, also brought into the news a relatively new shingles vaccine, Shingrix®.

That’s what caught Premier Health Now’s attention. So, we called Joseph Allen, MD, of Vandalia Family Care, to find out more about Shingrix®, which was approved in October by the Food and Drug Administration.

New Shingles Vaccine More Effective

“Clinical trials have shown Shingrix® to be 90 percent effective, which is substantially higher than the previous vaccine (Zostavax®),” Dr. Allen says. And while it could have kept Miranda, age 38, from getting shingles, Shingrix® vaccinations are recommended starting at age 50. That’s because the risk of shingles increases with age.

The same virus that causes chickenpox in children can lie dormant and later resurface as shingles, primarily in adults, with symptoms like a painful rash, headaches, itchiness, upset stomach, and a fever, in some cases.

Shingrix® is given in two doses, two to six months apart, Dr. Allen says. And if you were previously immunized with Zostavax®, you can be given Shingrix®, to take advantage of the new vaccine’s greater effectiveness. But Dr. Allen recommends waiting at least a year for the new shot.

Another advantage of Shingrix®, says Dr. Allen: Unlike Zostavax®, the new vaccine is not made with a live virus. This eliminates the risk of an immunized person shedding virus from the vaccine and infecting others.

And that’s particularly good news for expectant grandparents. Before the new vaccine, Dr. Allen explains, “If you were a grandparent-to-be, your daughter was pregnant, and you got the shingles vaccine, you’d have to stay away from her for a while, because the live virus is potentially shed, and she could catch it. Shingrix® does not have that risk.”

He adds, “Because the vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus, it is safe for those with a suppressed immune system.”

Shingrix®, though, has not yet received approval for pregnant women. But Dr. Allen believes that could happen.

Be sure to contact your health care provider for more information about protecting yourself from shingles.