Shingles vaccine hard to get- Philadelphia News

NORTH PHILADELPHIA; November 13, 2008

Earlier this year, government health experts recommended every adult 60 and older get the vaccine that protects against shingles. That's a painful disease that can be debilitating.

After we first announced this, we got a lot of calls and questions, because getting the shot may be easier said than done, due to some glitches in the system.

Jim Shea was a lifelong runner, until last spring, when severe pain in his left leg stopped him in his tracks.

Jim went to the doctor, thinking it was a joint problem.

He recalls, "As soon as I took off my shirt, he said - there's the rash, you have shingles."

Jim's back & left side were covered with a red rash typical of shingles.

If you've ever had chicken pox, you can get shingles - it's caused by the same virus.

After the chicken pox goes away, the virus lies dormant in nerve roots, close to the spinal cord.

Dr. Thomas Fekete, an infectious disease specialist at Temple University Hospital, says, "20, 30, 50 years later - BOOM! One of those nerves begins to release the virus, it travels along the nerve."

Painful blisters can appear on the face, body, and legs.

Although Jim's rash went away in a few weeks, the pain remained.

Jim never got Zostavax, the shingles vaccine.

The government now wants everyone 60 and older to get it.

But, that can be a challenge.

For one thing, the vaccine is in short supply, because of the way it's made.

Dr. Fekete says, "It's the exact same virus that's used for the children's chicken pox vaccine, but in order to get the stimulation for an adult, we have to use a lot more of it."

In addition, Zostavax, has to be kept frozen until it's used - an inconvenience for many doctors.

And the cost- up to $200... is also a drawback. Medicare part D and some private insurance plans will cover it... But some will not.

Still Jim Shea thinks the vaccine is worth it. His wife got inoculated just after he came down with the rash.

Shea's advice, "Get bubonic plague, or a terrible case of the vapors, but don't get shingles. Get the vaccine if you can."

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