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There's a new shingles vaccine and experts say you should get it

by Maggie Fox / / Source: NBC News

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There’s a new shingles vaccine and experts say you should get it if you’re over 50 — even if you’ve already been vaccinated.

The new vaccine, called Shingrix, works far better to prevent the extremely painful skin rash than the vaccine that is already on the market, studies have shown.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to recommend the vaccine to anyone over 50, and also voted to recommend it over the existing vaccine, Zostavax. That means it’s more likely insurance companies would pay for the pricier new vaccine instead of just offering the cheaper, older vaccine.

Shingles can be extremely painful and debilitating. Anyone who has had chickenpox is vulnerable to getting it — the herpes zoster virus causes both shingles and chickenpox.

Virus stays forever

About a million people a year get shingles in the U.S. and it can cause a complication called post-herpetic neuralgia — pain that lingers long after the blistering rash is gone.

“Everybody knows somebody who has had it, who has had a terrible experience,” said Dr. Kelly Moore, director of the Tennessee Immunization Program, who is a member of ACIP. “This really is a very different sort of vaccine,” she added. “This vaccine performs in a very superior fashion.”

Like most herpes viruses, once someone’s infected, the virus stays in the body forever. It tends to live along nerve cells and becomes active as people’s immune systems wane.

There’s a vaccine against chickenpox and it protects against shingles, also. But most adults have not received it.

ACIP makes recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If the CDC follows Wednesday’s vote, it will update its advice by recommending Shingrix for adults over 50 and suggest they get Shingrix instead of Zostavax, and even if they have already been vaccinated with Zostavax.

And people who have already had shingles once can get the vaccine.

"The new recommendations mean up to 62 million more adults in the US should be immunized, approximately 42 million aged 50-59 years old and 20 million who have previously been vaccinated against shingles," GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the vaccine, said in a statement.

The panel was quick to recommend the new vaccine, but was unusually divided over the question of whether to recommend it preferentially, over Zostavax.

That’s because it contains a new ingredient called an adjuvant, which stimulates the immune system to act more effectively when the vaccine is given.

Some panel members were worried that once the vaccine is used by many thousands of people, the adjuvant could cause unanticipated side-effects.

“I am more comfortable starting with a straight recommendation and going to preferential in a few years,” said Cynthia Pelligrini, a senior vice president at the March of Dimes, who sits on the committee.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new vaccine on Friday.

The old vaccine uses a live but weakened version of the whole virus. The new one uses just a piece of the virus to stimulate the immune system.

In one study of 15,000 people, two doses of Shingrix reduced the risk of shingles, also called herpes zoster, by 97 percent compared to 70 percent for Zostavax. Glaxo says it will charge $280 for the two-shot regimen, compared to $223 for Merck's Zostavax.

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