Zostavax: The Shingles Vaccine & Shingles Protection

Since its approval by Health Canada in 2008, the shingles vaccine (Zostavax®) has been in very high demand even at times becoming unavailable due to manufacturing delays in combination with a demand that may not have been anticipated.  Merck, the company producing Zostavax®, has finally produced enough of the vaccine to fill back orders and has managed to continue meeting the demand.

In addition, since it’s original introduction the vaccine has seen a formulation change – an improvement in fact.   The original vaccine had to be kept frozen until reconstituted and once reconstituted remained stable only long enough to allow for the immediate administration.    The new product Zostavax II only requires refrigeration, as do all vaccinations which means our access to the vaccine is much easier making it much simpler to maintain some minimum inventory at all times and gaining additional inventory is next day during weekdays (Monday to Thursday).

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.  Here is why.

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 be vaccinated.   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 or pharmacist with prescribing authority and can be administered by a pharmacist with certification to give injections.   At Stafford Pharmacy & Home Healthcare, our pharmacist Jaclyn has the authority to prescribe medications, including Zostavax, in cases where her assessment shows that vaccination is appropriate.

If you would like to make an appointment to discuss shingles prevention with Zostavax with Jaclyn or if you have the necessary prescription for Zostavax® vaccination, call our pharmacy today at 403-320-6500 Ext 1 to book an appointment

Visit www.zostavax.ca to learn more.

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