New shingles vaccine works so well, some pharmacies’ supplies have started running thin

New shingles vaccine works so well, some pharmacies’ supplies have started running thin
Pharmacist Erica Pfeifer, left, injects Lisa Larson of Bellevue with the new shingles vaccine at Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare near 51st and L Streets. Larson had shingles about 10 years ago. She doesn’t want them again. (World-Herald News Service)

It’s good — so good that demand has been higher than its maker apparently anticipated.

As a result, supplies of the new shingles vaccine, Shingrix, have been spotty nationwide. Reports indicate some pharmacy chains have created waiting lists, particularly for customers who’ve gotten the first recommended dose of the vaccine and are seeking the second. Pharmacists at two independent pharmacies in the Omaha area, however, say they’ve been able to draw on multiple suppliers to keep the vaccine in stock, at least for now.

Supplies could get tighter once flu shot season starts, local pharmacists say. That’s when people typically come in seeking vaccinations.

“My advice is not to panic,” said pharmacist Marty Feltner, vaccine coordinator for Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare in Omaha. “Put your name on a wait list, and we’ll just continue to order.”

Shingrix, approved last fall, now is the vaccine preferred by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for prevention not only of shingles but also of the severe nerve pain that can linger in its wake. Caused by a rekindling of the virus that causes chicken pox, shingles affects one in three adults in their lifetime, causing a painful rash and blisters. There are about a million cases in the United States each year. The new vaccine is recommended for people 50 and older.

Dr. Rudolf Kotula, an infectious disease physician with Methodist Physicians Clinic in Omaha, said the new vaccine remains more than 90 percent effective even as people age.

“Whether you are 50 or 90, the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective,” Kotula said. “It really protects the public from an occurrence or recurrence of shingles, which is very painful.”

While shingles can occur at any age, the risk of developing it increases with age, starting at 50. About half of all cases occur in people age 60 or older.

People apparently have gotten the message. Demand for Shingrix has been high since it became available in the United States earlier this year.

“It’s a better vaccine,” Kotula said, “and I think the company was not prepared for such huge interest.”

Lisa Larson on Friday received the new shingles vaccine, administered with a shot, at Kohll’s Pharmacy & Homecare near 51st and L Streets. Larson, 52, of Bellevue, had shingles about 10 years ago. She doesn’t want them again.

“It’s horrible,” she said. “Very, very painful.”

She’d gotten the old vaccine but wanted the better protection that studies indicate the new one provides.

The CDC noted on its vaccine shortage page that manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has increased the U.S. supply available for 2018 and plans to release doses on a consistent and predictable schedule throughout the rest of the year. The company has told federal agencies there is enough to vaccinate more patients in 2018 than were vaccinated against shingles in 2017.

Kotula said Methodist’s clinics have a limited supply of the vaccine, which arrives in small amounts.

A CVS spokeswoman said in an email that the pharmacy chain has been getting shipments incrementally. With the demand, however, “It has become challenging to keep an ample supply across all of our more than 9,800 stores due to supply restrictions from the manufacturer,” she wrote.

Both CVS and Walgreens are advising customers to call their local stores in advance to find out if they have Shingrix in stock. Some stores reportedly have been keeping waiting lists and calling customers when the vaccine is available.

Feltner, the Kohll’s pharmacist, said all Kohll’s locations currently have the vaccine. He’s been ordering from multiple suppliers to keep it coming.

“We’re doing our best to find the vaccine to keep it in stock and meet the community demand,” he said, noting that it’s probably best to call ahead just in case.

Kubat Pharmacy in Omaha also has the vaccine in stock, said pharmacist Jim Quinley. He, too, has been tapping multiple suppliers.

“We did have a waiting list for a couple weeks,” he said. “We got a big shipment in and got it cleared.”

Both Feltner and Quinley said they’ve seen customers who’ve gotten a first dose at a pharmacy chain but couldn’t get the second.

The CDC recommends that people get the second dose of the vaccine two to six months after the first. However, Dr. Mark Rupp, professor and chief of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s infectious diseases division, said there is “some wiggle room” on the timing of the second shot.

“If you go past that, you don’t need to repeat that first dose,” he said.

Rupp said one in 10 people who get the vaccine will have some side effects for up to three days: muscle aches, low grade fevers and headaches, as well as more redness and swelling at the injection site than with most shots. But they’re a “far cry” from the symptoms associated with shingles.

“It looks like it’s a really good addition to our tool chest for preventing an illness that can really be debilitating for some folks,” he said.

This report contains material from the Washington Post. 

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