Monday, November 9, 2009

Shingles Vaccine

The Shingles Vaccine by Joan Baril

On Monday, October 27, I was vaccinated against shingles.

The single shot lasts for life.

The shingles vaccine, called Zostavax, was approved by Health Canada in August 2008 and is just becoming available. The vaccine was developed in the United States and approved by the American Food and Drug in May 2006. In 2007, the US Centre for disease control recommended the vaccine for people over 60 who have previously had chicken pox.

Most of us remember our bout of childhood chicken pox, the itching, the scabbing, the fun of missing school. However, we did not know this common childhood disease has long lasting consequences. The virus does not leave the body but remains, nestled near the spine. Later, usually in the senior years, the virus can erupt into the painful blistering rash called shingles. Up to twenty percent of people who have had chicken pox will get shingles later in life.

Shingles is a cruel disease. The rash, which is intensely painful, usually erupts on one side of the face or body and generally lasts from two to four weeks. But some people suffer long term complications. The pain can last for months or even years. Other complications include scarring, paralysis, loss of vision or hearing or long-term nerve pain called postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). And you can get this nasty disease more than once, in fact several times.

There are problems with the shingles vaccine and the first one is the cost. It is expensive. My shot at Janzen’s cost $181.49. My sister in Alliston, Ontario, paid close to $200 for her injection.
Secondly the vaccine has to be kept frozen and must be administered within thirty minutes of removing it from the freezer. When I learned Janzen’s Pharmacy had the vaccine in stock, I asked my doctor to fax a prescription. Janzen’s employs a nurse practitioner who can give the shot and also, I believe, write a prescription. I did not check all the pharmacies in Thunder Bay. Other pharmacies and medical clinics may have arrangements to administer the vaccine.

The shingles vaccination does not give 100% protection but if shingles occurs, the case is usually mild. According to the CDC, people who should not be vaccinated against shingles include:
• Anyone who has a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDS or another immune-related illness.
• Anyone who has had a life-threatening allergic reaction to gelatin, the antibiotic neomycin or any other component of the shingles vaccine.
• Anyone who has received treatment with drugs that affect the immune system, such as steroids; cancer treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy; or has a history of cancer affecting the bone marrow or lymphatic system, such as leukemia.
• Anyone who has active, untreated tuberculosis.
• A woman who is pregnant or might be pregnant.

Most seniors know about shingles. Many have experience with the disease, either personally or with friends or family members and they know the distress this disease causes. In my view, the price must be lowered so that anyone over 60 who wishes to get the vaccine is able to do so at a reasonable cost or no cost at all, just like other vaccinations. I urge everyone to contact Ontario Ministry of Health and out local MPPs. The vaccine is expensive but the cost of shingles treatment is also expensive. The local health unit has the ability to store and administer the vaccine and that is the organization that should take the lead on making this vaccine available free of charge as it does with other a vaccines.

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