Nationwide shingles vaccine shortage target of federal shutdown

Jan 16, 2019

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer is using the nationwide shingles vaccine shortage as another example of why the federal government needs to get back to work. He spoke at a New York pharmacy to demonstrate the extent of the shutdown, which is now nearly a month old.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) speaks Monday at Burnet Pharmacy in Syracuse.
Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

The preferred vaccine, Shingrix, has been in short supply since October 2017 when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the two-shot series instead of an older vaccine.

Without the shutdown, Schumer said the federal government could step in and declare the shortage an emergency. However, Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein told WBFO we are not there yet.

"GlaxoSmithKline has actually stepped up on manufacturing to try to increase the supply and increase distribution," Burstein said. "However, because the demand is still so great, we anticipate we'll still see some shortages throughout 2019, but again, this is going to be self-limiting and there are pharmacies in the area that do carry the vaccine."

Credit Preston Hunt / Wikimedia Commons

Shingles can be an extremely painful rash. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox, and can be spread when the rash is in the blister-phase.

Burstein said the older vaccine, made by Merck beginning in 2006, was the first shingles vaccine and required one dose. The new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline since 2017, requires two shots for maximum effectiveness.

"The Recombinant Zoster Vaccine, or RZV or the Shingrix vaccine that is made by GlaxoSmithKline, so that is approved and recommended for people 50 years and older, where the other vaccine was recommended for people who were 60 years and older," Burstein said. "Another difference is that this new shingles vaccine is more effective than the previous vaccine, the old Merck vaccine."

Burstein said pharmacies keep a registry of those waiting to receive the vaccine and some pharmacies have a better supply than others.

"I think we're going to be okay here in Erie County," she said. "Just people do their homework and check with multiple pharmacies about the vaccine supply and make sure if you've received your first dose, you do have priority to receive your second dose within 2-6 months. So try to take advantage of that situation."

She advises Erie County residents to call around to pharmacies or go online to the CDC vaccine locator to find a supply of vaccine.