Zostavax – Shingles Vaccine

Shingles Vaccination

Since its approval by Health Canada in 2008, the shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) has been difficult if not impossible to find due to manufacturing difficulties. Merck, the company who makes Zostavax®, has finally produced enough of the vaccine to fill back orders and hopes to continue production to meet incoming orders. This vaccination is now available here, at Stafford Pharmacy, and can be administered by one of our pharmacists.

When the vaccination was first approved it was only indicated for adults aged 60 or older. Now it is recommended for those who are 50 or older. If you are over 50, you should consider being vaccinated against shingles.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a viral infection resulting in a painful blistering rash potentially lasting several weeks.   It can cause skin infections, scarring and nerve pain.   Shingles can appear anywhere on the body and the severity of the outbreak varies depending on the location of the initial infection. Approximately 10-25% of those experiencing shingles will have eye involvement.

What causes shingles?

Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, varicella zoster.  Once you have had chickenpox, the virus remains inactive in the nerve cells of your spinal cord.   It can become reactivated later in life if your body decreases its resistance.  This allows the virus to multiply and move along the nerves out to the skin where symptoms appear.   If you had chickenpox as a child, as 95% of the population has, you are at risk of developing shingles.   In Canada, 1 in 3 people will develop shingles.

What are the complications of shingles?

Possible complications of a shingles outbreak include:

  • Post Herpetic Neuralgia – a chronic pain syndrome that develops due to nerve damage
  • Anxiety and Depression
  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Eye ulceration, scarring and vision loss

What is the treatment for shingles?

If shingles is diagnosed within 72 hours of presentation, prescription antiviral medications can be used. These medications do not cure shingles, however they moderately reduce the severity and duration of the outbreak.  All treatment measures focused on the acute disease are focused on symptom control.

What can you do to prevent shingles?

The only way to prevent the development of shingles is to receive the vaccination.   The vaccination will not prevent all cases of shingles, but is the only line of defense we have.   The vaccination is indicated for those who are age 50 and older.   It can be used to prevent shingles from occurring even if you have had shingles before.   The vaccination cannot be used to treat a shingles outbreak.

Vaccination requires a prescription from your physician but can be administered by a pharmacist with certification to give injections, as many pharmacists today do.   At Stafford Pharmacy & Home Healthcare, pharmacists are certified to provide such vaccinations.   If you have the necessary prescription for Zostavax® vaccination, call the pharmacy to book an appointment for the vaccination and allow approximately 45 min to 60 min when you arrive for this appointment.    The vaccine is shipped in a frozen/dehydrated form and must be reconstituted prior to vaccination.   Once reconstituted, the vaccine has a limited stability which means the preparation of the vaccine is done only once you arrive and the pharmacist has had an opportunity to review your signed consent form.   The pharmacist may refuse the vaccination if because of a health concern, such as an active illness, that it is not in your best interest to receive the vaccination that day.

If you have made an appointment for the vaccination but present with any type of illness on the day of the vaccination, you may be asked to reschedule for another time.  Ideally, on the day of the vaccination,  it is preferred that your immune system is not already busy fighting a viral or bacterial infection.

For more information speak with your pharmacist or doctor today!    For information about insurance coverage for the vaccine,  please contact your insurance company or if usually covered by a employer group plan, contact the individual responsible for your group insurance coverage before arriving to receive the vaccination.

Visit www.zostavax.ca to learn more.

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