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Patients waiting for shots with new shingles vaccine in short supply

UPDATED: Mon., July 23, 2018, 8:08 p.m.

In this Jan. 12, 2018,  photo, a medical assistant at a community health center gives a patient a shot in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
In this Jan. 12, 2018, photo, a medical assistant at a community health center gives a patient a shot in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Local pharmacies are having trouble keeping up with demand for a new Shingles vaccine known as Shingrix, as more patients nationwide seek the vaccination.

Shingrix, a two-dose shingles vaccine, is over 90 percent effective at preventing shingles and postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and remains at 85 percent effectiveness for at least the first four years after vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending the vaccination for people 50 and over, even if they’ve already been vaccinated with the previous shingles vaccination, Zostavax.

By comparision, Zostavax is only 51 percent effective at preventing shingles, and 67 percent effective at preventing PHN according to the CDC. It is also only approved for people 60 years and older.

The only problem with Shingrix is that the manufacturer hasn’t produced enough of the vaccine to meet the demand, said Erik Nelson, a pharmacist at Sixth Avenue Medical Pharmacy.

“From what I understand, the company had no idea it would be this successful,” Nelson said. The last email he had gotten said there would be another shipment in late July, but he didn’t have an exact schedule for shipments.

A statement on the CDC website said the company that manufactures the product, GlaxoSmithKline, has increased production to meet demand. But shortages are expected to continue through the rest of the year.

“Most people seem pretty eager to get it,” Nelson said.

Shingles, which develops from the same virus as chicken pox, causes symptoms including painful rashes, blisters and nerve pain. So anyone who’s had chicken pox is liable to get shingles, especially as the immune system weakens with age.

“We just got a shipment in a week and a half ago, and they were already spoken for as soon as they got in,” Nelson said. “We’ve got people on a waiting list.”

Thomas Becker, a Spokane area pharmacy technician, said he’s seeing the same problem.

“We are dispensing it as fast as it comes in,” he said. “I get a box of it in and it’s already spoken for.”

Multiple pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who spoke with The Spokesman-Review confirmed they were also having trouble meeting demand, but asked not to be named because of company media policies.

The shipments, which several pharmacists said came in boxes of around 10 doses, seem to be arriving at random intervals whenever the manufacturer can manage to send more out.

“I’m just getting random shipments,” said one technician. “I have a list of about 15 or so people waiting.”

Several pharmacists said they also had customers on a wait list that varied from 10 to 15 patients. Others said the vaccination were given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

So far, Becker said, he hasn’t seen anyone have to wait longer than the recommended time frame between the first injection and the second. The CDC says patients should get a second dose within two to six months of the first.


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