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The Shingrix vaccine is recommended for adults ages 50 and older. Getty Images
  • There is a shortage of the shingles vaccine Shingrix due to consumer demand because of its effectiveness.
  • The vaccine is for people over the age of 50, especially those individuals who had chickenpox as children.
  • Experts say the vaccine can still be found at pharmacies as well as doctors’ offices.

A vaccine for a preventable infection that typically affects older adults is currently in short supply.

The company that makes it says the shortage has occurred because the vaccine works so well and the publicity surrounding its effectiveness is driving up demand.

The drug is called Shingrix. It’s a vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent herpes zoster infection, more commonly known as shingles.

The shortage isn’t sounding many alarms, but it’s important to note as the vaccine is the new default against preventable infections that can cause serious concerns in populations at higher risk of death or other complications from the infection.

In this case, older generations would rather not deal with another round of this painful rash.

Shingrix is recommended for adults ages 50 and older.

This group of older adults is supposed to get one shot and then another 6 months later to protect them from the painful, potentially blistering rash that can take up to a month to heal.

People who have had chickenpox are more susceptible to shingles, a concern for many who lived through the times when chickenpox was common.

In the early 1990s, before a vaccine became available, an estimated 4 million chickenpox infections were reported each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While most cases were routine and an expected part of growing up in the United States, the CDC says up to 13,000 of those cases involved hospitalization and 150 resulted in death.

Now, those children are open to a preventable infection and are at or past the age when federal health experts suggest they get a vaccine to prevent it.

About 1 in every 3 Americans will suffer from shingles at some point in their lives. Increased vaccine effectiveness means another generation could see the end of a preventable disease in their lifetimes.

However, drug shortages are common in the United States.

They can occur for many reasons, from natural disasters affecting the supply chain of saline solution to too much demand.

In the case of the latest brand name vaccine to prevent shingles, the manufacturer says it’s because so many people want it.

GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of Shingrix, says there’s a shortage of the vaccine “due to high demand for the product,” though it’s still regularly producing and releasing it.

Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, says there are several reasons for the shortage.

“Since it is intended for all adults turning 50, the manufacturers have only created the capacity for generating an adequate vaccine for this population,” he said. “But in fact, the vaccine is being used by all people over age 50, as it should be, which is a much larger population.”

That includes both the baby boomers and Generation X, the eldest of whom are approaching their mid-50s. All told, those generations make up around 109 million people, or one-third of all Americans.

Shingles is a reactivation of the same virus that caused chickenpox before the first vaccine came out in 1995, so many are looking to prevent a second round.

Zostavax was the main method of preventing shingles infections in older adults. It was first approved in 2016.

As Cutler explains, it was recommended for adults over the age of 60, but because it was a live virus, it was limited to certain populations. It was also only effective in half of the people who received it.

Studies have shown, however, that Shingrix, is about 90 percent effective. It’s not based on a live virus, so more people can get it, except for those who have a reason to avoid it and other vaccines, such as because of a compromised immune system.

Even now, the CDC recommends getting Shingrix over Zostavax because it’s supposed to remain more effective over time.

“The improved efficacy and safety of the new Shingrix vaccine along with the misery created by shingles, have generated great interest in getting this vaccine,” Cutler said.

People need two doses about 6 months apart to make it work, which further contributes to its shortage.

As Cutler puts it, a safe, effective vaccine that can help a large vulnerable population who have seen widespread publicity about its superiority to the prior vaccine, as well as the need for two doses, “has created a multifactorial situation contributing to tremendous demand.”

While the limited supply seems to be gradually improving since the Shingrix vaccine was introduced in 2017, Cutler said people looking to get it should shop around, since it’s more widely available at pharmacies rather than doctors’ offices.

While you can ask your doctor if it’s available, it may also be time to have a conversation about your status with other vaccines.

“It is also a good idea to check with your physician to make sure you are updated on all vaccines, as this is a great way to prevent illness and stay healthy,” he said.