TRAVERSE CITY — Shingles causes a painful rash; its varicella-zoster virus also causes chickenpox.
But adults over 50 can vaccinate against it, and doing so has made Shingrix very popular across the Grand Traverse region.
The Shingrix vaccine was approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2017 and has been in high demand since then, forcing those who should get it to go on waiting lists.
Angela Peters, registered nurse and vaccine coordinator at Cherry Bend Family Care in Elmwood Township, said a drug representative visited the office this week and said back orders of the vaccine will be shipped and delivered by the end of March.
Peters was told that going forward, all orders are anticipated to be filled within 60 days.
"That is good," Peters said. "That is the first time they have been able to give us a timeline."
A recorded message at GlaxoSmithKline, the company that makes Shingrix, states that it has significantly increased deliveries and accelerated shipments of doses of the vaccine for this year. The vaccine is expected to be available throughout 2019 and shipped on a regular basis, the message states.
There are about 30 people on a waiting list at Cherry Bend. They join people on lists at doctors offices and pharmacies across the region and across the country.
Cherry Bend ordered vaccines more than a year ago, Peters said.
"Then we waited and waited and waited," she said. "The supply and demand were not equal."
The office eventually got 20 vaccines, which were gone in five days, she said.
About 60 people are on a list for the vaccine at Hometown Pharmacy on South Airport Road, said Dave Voice, a pharmacist there. The list was started more than a year ago with the pharmacy getting just a few of the vaccines in at a time, he said.
Hometown got 20 of the vaccines recently and Voice said that may be a sign that the company is getting caught up.
He has not seen a shortage like this one in a long time.
"It seems like years ago when the nicotine patch came out we experienced a shortage of those," Voice said. "There have been other things, but nothing that has lasted over a year like this."
Shingles is a painful, red and blistery rash that usually wraps around the torso on one side of the body in a striped pattern. It can also occur on one side of the face or neck or around one eye, which can lead to permanent damage — even blindness — if untreated.
"It's a pretty awful disease," said Dr. Michael Collins, director of the Grand Traverse County Health Department.
The vaccine is highly sought after, Collins said, and for good reason.
"It has turned out to be a very effective vaccine and that has made it very popular," Collins said.
It also lasts more than five years and can be given sooner than the previous vaccine, Zostavax, which is given to those over 60. Zostavax has been in use since 2006.
Shingrix is recommended for those who are over 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is given in a two-shot series and is covered by most insurances.
Collins said anyone over 50 is at risk for shingles as that is when a person's immune system begins to weaken due to age or other factors.
The varicella-zoster virus — the same one that causes chickenpox — is the culprit in shingles. The virus is a member of the herpes family, but is not the same one that causes cold sores and genital herpes.
If a person has had chickenpox the virus hides in nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain and can be reactivated many years later.
There is no active virus in the Shingrix vaccine, just DNA created to be similar to the virus, Collins said. It's a process that has been used for about five years, he said.
"There is absolutely no possibility of getting the infection from getting the vaccine," he said.
Before the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995, about 4 million cases were reported every year in the United States — mostly to children.
Collins said there is hardly anyone over 50 today who hasn't had chickenpox. If a person doesn't know or can't remember if they've had them, it should be assumed they have, he said.
The vaccine is 90 percent effective even in people over 70, which is unusual for any vaccine, Collins said. But people should be aware of the side effects, he said.
About 10 percent of those who get the vaccine will have significant arm soreness, and about 10 percent will have fatigue and a low grade fever, he said.
"But that's not nearly as bad as shingles itself is," Collins said. "The vaccine is well worth waiting. I'd be as persistent as it takes and get the vaccine as soon as possible."