"The vaccine is about two-thirds effective," Schaffner said. "It will prevent about two-thirds of the cases of shingles and its consequent pain syndrome. Like most vaccines, it's not perfect, but it offers the promise of reducing the risk and occurrence of shingles by two-thirds, and that's not bad."
One drawback to the vaccine is its cost, which is about $150, Schaffner noted. In addition, the vaccine may not be covered by private insurance. For Medicare patients, it is currently covered under the Part D drug benefit, so its cost will vary by provider.
Schaffner hopes that the new CDC recommendation will make the vaccine more available.
Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus, known as varicella zoster, which remains dormant in the body after being infected. Shingles causes blisters, which develop on one side of the body, including the face, and can cause severe pain that can last for weeks, months or years.
One potential consequence of shingles, if it appears on the face, is loss of some vision or blindness, should the virus infect the eye, Schaffner noted. Shingles can also result in hearing loss.
While mild cases of shingles usually disappear within a few weeks, severe cases can cause pain that lasts for years. This long-term nerve pain, called post herpetic neuralgia, is described as burning, stabbing, throbbing or shooting pain.
For more information on shingles vaccine, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SOURCES: William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chairman, Department of Preventive Medicine, professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and vice president, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases; May 15, 2008, Morbidity and Mortality
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