Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox in children, herpes zoster. Afterwards, the herpes zoster virus stays in the body but lays dormant. If it becomes reactivated from stress or an illness, a painful rash develops, typically on one side of the body or face.
There are more than a million cases of shingles each year and a great concern is that many (about 30 percent according to the New York Times) develop postherpetic neuralgias.
This causes continued pain in areas that follow the path of nerves that the virus has affected. There is no cure for this affliction and some suffer for years after an outbreak.
The vaccine, Zostavax ® (Zoster Vaccine Live), came to market in 2006 and provides for protection against shingles. It is approved by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) for those aged 60 and older.
“A 2011 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the rate of shingles was 55 percent lower in the 75,761 people age 60 or older who received the vaccine, compared with those who did not.” (4)
Side effects reported from the vaccine are redness and soreness at the injection site and possible headaches. It has also been found that in those who have a shingles outbreak, despite having received the vaccination, have lessened symptoms after receiving the vaccine.
Two prominent issues of cost and availability play a role in whether and how one should get the shingles vaccine.
The vaccine costs $161 dollars a vial from Merck. This does not include the administration fee, which brings the cost closer to $200. The vaccine must be kept frozen so many doctors offices do not have the Zostavax shots available, unless they usually keep a stock of other immunizations for patients.
For those over the age of 65, only Medicare Part D reimburses for the shingles vaccine minus the co-pay.