Shingles vaccine shortage expected to continue through 2019

The Carver Senior Center hosts a flu clinic Dec. 7, 2011, in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for American Lung Association)

The Carver Senior Center hosts a flu clinic Dec. 7, 2011, in New York. (Jason DeCrow/AP Images for American Lung Association)

About a third of people living in the United States will get shingles during their lifetime — 1 million people each year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shingles is a manifestation of a virus called varicella zoster, which also causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox carries the dormant virus and is at risk for developing the painful shingles rash. Older people and those with weakened immune systems are more susceptible.

Those concerns prompted this submission to our Listening Post from Rand Tenor:

My wife and I wait for the Shingles vaccine. I contacted the CDC and my pharmacy and the only result I got is that it is delayed.

Tenor is right: There’s a nationwide shortage of the new shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, which is made by Glaxosmithkline.

The new vaccine has a more than 90 percent success rate, according to CDC. That’s leading more doctors to prescribe Shingrix, said GSK spokesman Sean Clements.

“Shingrix has been met by unprecedented demand by health care providers and patients,” Clements said. “Providers are immunizing patients at a rate several times what was previously seen for shingles.”

GSK has increased production and is shipping “large volumes” of vaccine every two to three weeks, Clements said. The vaccine takes six to nine months to produce.

The British company is planning “significantly more doses” for the U.S. in 2019, Clements said. Still, he expects “ordering limits” to continue through 2019. The company is building its capacity and expects to meet demand within three years.

Clements also pointed to a vaccine finder on the GSK website to help people find somewhere near them that has the vaccine. However, calls to vaccine providers within 15 miles of Harrisburg turned up no available doses of the vaccine — and there are long wait lists at several pharmacies.

At the CVS on 221 Market St. in Harrisburg, pharmacist Nicole Gregory said she’s been getting about one dose of Shingrix a month.

“We’re actively and aggressively trying to order it for our patients, but demand is higher than anticipated,” Gregory said. The store has started keeping a list of people who want the vaccine, she said. There are at least 15 people on the list.

Rite Aid pharmacies at 2103 N. 3rd St. and 309 Market St. in Harrisburg also reported no available supply and wait lists for the vaccine, according to two employees who declined to provide their last names. Rite Aid spokesman Pete Strella said in an email that Rite Aid has recently seen “small incremental improvements” in the vaccine’s availability.

“To help ensure that our Rite Aid customers receive two doses of Shingrix within six months as directed, our Rite Aid pharmacists have tools that help them identify and contact customers who are due for their second dose when new shipments of the vaccine arrive,” said Strella.

CDC recommends healthy adults age 50 or older get the vaccine, which consists of two doses over a period of two-to six months. Read more on the CDC’s recommendations here.

PA Post is a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization that connects Pennsylvanians with accountability and deep-dive reporting.

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