Patients seeking the Shingrix shingles vaccine will likely find themselves on a 300-plus person waiting list, no matter which Jackson pharmacy they choose.
“Everybody’s having trouble getting it,” said Michelle Albee, a pharmacist at Albertsons Sav-On.
Stone Drug has a waiting list that tops 350.
“We’re having trouble getting those vaccines,” pharmacist James Blackburn said. “The last time we were able to get them was in September.”
Shingrix is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s preferred shingles vaccine. It’s been in use since 2017. There’s also Zostavax, in use since 2006.
Adults 50 or older should have two doses of Shingrix two to six months apart to prevent shingles and its complications, like postherpetic neuralgia or severe pain where the shingles rash occurred. The two doses are more than 90% effective.
Shingles is a rash on the head or body that affects 1 in 3 people in the United States. It typically clears up within two to four weeks, with symptoms including fever, headache, chills and an upset stomach. It rarely leads to complications like vision loss or, more rare, pneumonia, hearing problems, brain inflammation or death.
Anyone who had chickenpox as a child is at risk for developing shingles later in life; they’re both caused by the same virus. After a patient recovers from chickenpox, the virus can stay dormant and reactivate years later, causing shingles. Shingles can’t be “caught” from another person, but someone who never had chickenpox could get the childhood disease from someone with active shingles.
Years of waiting
The shortage isn’t new. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug in October 2017 and the CDC recommended in 2018 that adults be vaccinated, demand has been off the charts. Experts attribute the demand to the vaccine being effective and the need for two doses.
Local pharmacies are seeing the shortage drag on, and the CDC said that’s likely to last through 2019. After the 40 doses Blackburn ordered last year, he won’t be eligible to purchase more until January 2020.
“As soon as they become available, we will order as many as we can for the community,” Blackburn said.
Get on the list
He’s been telling patients that in addition to getting on waiting lists and seeing who receives the drug first, they should also look in chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS if they’re in a bigger city.
Smiths gets a few doses in a month; Albertsons gets about 10 vaccines every week or every other week. Albee said she recommends patients call and get on the list, since that’s how they distribute the doses when they get them.
“It could take close to a year,” she said. “It’s taken some people 10 months.”
The Teton County Health Department is in a similar situation. It received an initial supply of 30 vaccines this time last year, got an additional 20 or so late last summer and haven’t even kept a waiting list due to its small supply. There are only a few doses left at the moment.
“We’ve been waiting since then for more,” said nurse manager Janet Garland. “We just got some about a month ago.”
Luckily, the CDC says you don’t have to start the series over if you’re outside the six-month mark.
Albee said production appears to be picking up and the worst of it might be over.
“Hopefully, it’ll get better,” she said.
Garland said she anticipates patients losing interest if the shortage drags on long enough.
“We get the message out about it and it’s not available and people lose interest,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge to reinvigorate people’s knowledge and interest in it.”