Health Department reports delay in shingles vaccine shipment

For Immediate Release, July 3, 2008
Media Contact: Communication Office
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON – Fewer doses and a delay in shipment by the manufacturer of shingles vaccine (Zostavax) has led the Vermont Department of Health to cancel previously scheduled immunization clinics at Health Department District Offices statewide.

The Health Department will honor previously scheduled appointments until the limited supply of vaccine is used up.

The shortage is the result of an Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices recommendation that children receive two doses of varicella vaccine prior to the start of the school year in the fall, whenever possible, (unless they have had chickenpox). To meet the increased demand, the manufacturer, Merck, has shifted its bulk production to varicella (chickenpox) vaccine for children, which is made from the same varicella virus that is used to make the shingles vaccine.

We have worked hard to spread the protection provided by Zostavax,” said Health Department Medical Director Donald R. Swartz, MD. “In less than three months we have been able to administer 54 percent of the doses targeted for the year. The shortage will make us pause, but we’ll continue to provide shingles vaccine as it becomes available, although we don’t expect any new shipments until the fall.”

Nurses at Vermont Department of Health District Offices immunized more than 6,200 Vermonters beginning in February. The Health Department hoped to immunize about 11,000 Vermonters over a 12-month period.

Anyone over the age of 60 is eligible and the vaccine is most effective for adults in the 60-69 age range.

Shingles, also called herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. After a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus stays in the body and can reappear years later, causing shingles. Shingles usually begins with burning or itching before a red rash appears. The rash soon becomes a group of blisters and can be painful enough that often a health care provider will prescribe a painkiller. Usually only older adults develop shingles, but it is possible for younger people and even children to get shingles.

The vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by about 56 percent, and reduces the risk of complications by nearly 66 percent. Each year in Vermont, approximately 156 people are diagnosed with shingles and hospitalized and another 546 seek medical care in an emergency room. The total number of people who develop the disease each year in Vermont is unknown. About 20 percent of people with shingles will experience post-herpetic neuralgia (persistent pain), which can last for months or even years.

For more information and contact information for the Department of Health District Offices, please visit healthvermont.gov.

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