When people think about innovations that have had an effect on society, they think about cell phones or electric cars. However, there’s no discovery that’s had a larger impact on the world than vaccines. The World Health Organization estimates that vaccinations saved more than 10 million lives between 2010 and 2015. Vaccines have such an impact in modern life that April 24-30 is dedicated to World Immunization Week.
This year, we’ve all been talking about the COVID-19 vaccine, but there are more diseases that can be effectively prevented with a vaccine – like shingles.
What Is Shingles?
Shingles is a painful red rash usually appearing as a strip of blisters on either side of the torso. It’s caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, and while it isn’t fatal, it is very painful and can have a big effect to the day to day life of people who experience it.
It’s possible the pain can last long after the blisters have gone away. Other complications include:
- Vision loss
- Neurological problems
- Skin infections
If you’ve ever had chickenpox, the virus — varicella-zoster — is dormant in your body and you can get shingles. Most adults had chickenpox when they were kids because there wasn’t a vaccine available in the United States until 1995.
Shingles can affect people at any age but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated at 50, because that’s when the immune system starts to weaken. There are some estimates that half of the people who live to 85 will get shingles.
People with cancer, particularly leukemia and lymphoma, or HIV and transplant recipients are at greater risk. Treatments that suppress the immune system also put people at greater risk.
Women are more likely than men to get shingles, with one study finding women were 62% of the cases. Some evidence shows the hormonal changes women go through when they’re pregnant and during menopause could trigger shingles.
Non-Hispanic whites are also more likely to get shingles compared with African Americans who are 50 percent less likely to get the illness.
No one needs to get shingles. There have been vaccines since 2006. In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration approved Shingrix and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for people over 50.
Shingrix is made from a dormant portion of the virus. It’s given in two doses with two to six months between each dose. Some vaccinated people still get shingles, but it typically goes away faster and is less severe. It’s recommended for anyone who has had chickenpox and those who aren’t sure if they’ve had it. Even if you’ve had shingles, you should still get vaccinated: the disease typically occurs once in a lifetime but has been known to come back.
It is also recommended to get the Shingrix vaccine if you were vaccinated with Zostavax, the first vaccine approved in the U.S. It’s no longer used here and it only provides five years of protection.
Who’s Getting Vaccinated?
The National Center for Health Services did a study of people 60 and over getting shingles vaccinations. The number has gone up from 6.7% in 2008 to 34.5% in 2018. Non-Hispanic white adults were twice as likely as African Americans to get shingles, and also twice as likely to get vaccinated — 38.6% to 18.8%. Hispanic adults were vaccinated at a rate of 19.5%. It’s likely that low awareness, both of the disease and the vaccine, are to blame for this lower rates.
Reduce Your Risk at AltaMed
AltaMed doctors can talk to you about the benefits of getting the shingles vaccine. They can go over your risk factors and put you on the schedule to receive the two-dose Shingrix vaccine.
Primary care doctors are available to assist you with your overall health and advise you on immunizations, like for shingles. They are also available to treat you, should you contract the disease.
Our women’s health specialists understand the unique needs of women and can counsel you regarding shingles, its effects on women, and when it’s the right time to get vaccinated.
Since seniors are most often affected, our geriatric specialists can guide independent older adults and caregivers in making healthful choices. They can also arrange for the shingles vaccine.