In the course of discussing immunizations at a couple of senior communities recently I learned that a sizeable percentage of persons had not yet received the shingles vaccine – Shingrix. Big mistake!
It occurs because those of us who had chickenpox as kids still have the virus hidden away in the nerves that lead out from the spinal cord. After a few years or even several decades when our immune system is challenged by a coronavirus, as an example, some other illness, or certain medications, the virus emerges and creeps along the nerves, usually around the waist. (That’s why it’s called shingles, after the Latin word cingula, for belt.)
Shingles is not a benign disease. When the rash involves the face it can lead to permanent loss of vision. Some persons experience post herpetic neuralgia, constant pain that can last the rest of your life. And there are still other complications.
Shingrix was released in 2017 and it already has a much better track record than Zostrix, the old vaccine. After six years since trials began it is still 97 percent effective. Side effects are common but brief: headache, fever, muscle aches, a sore arm.
Are you at risk? Absolutely! About 20 percent of persons over the age of 60 are going to get shingles. That number jumps to 50 percent at age 85 with a high risk of complications such as blindness!
And for those persons who experience some nasty side effects from the two-dose vaccine, you need to know that if you have had a reaction to this mild vaccine it probably means that you would have a severe illness from the real thing.