The shingles vaccine provides immunity against the varicella-zoster virus (VZV), which causes shingles. Presently, the shingles vaccine is readily available and not in limited supply. However, some evidence indicates there will be an increasing demand in the coming decades.

Shingles, or herpes zoster, is a viral infection that can cause a painful rash on one side of the face or body. The VZV, a DNA virus from the herpesvirus group, is responsible for causing a shingles infection.

A person develops shingles when dormant (or inactive) VZV in the nervous system from a past episode of chickenpox reactivates itself and triggers symptoms. Shingles is most common in older adults. While many people with a history of chickenpox may develop shingles, not all will. Shingrix is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccine against shingles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the shingles vaccine is the only protection against shingles and its most common complication, which healthcare professionals call postherpetic neuralgia (PHN). This is a painful condition that affects the nerve fibers and skin.

In this article, we will discuss the availability of the shingles vaccine. It also looks at why vaccine shortages occur, the effectiveness of the shingles vaccine, and who requires one.

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In 2019, GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company manufacturing Shingrix, reported a vaccine shortage due to high demand for the vaccine while still regularly producing and releasing it in the market. As a result of the shortage affecting supplies across the United States, thousands of people could not get the vaccine.

Before that, Zostavax was the primary drug therapy for preventing shingles infection among adults aged 50 and above.

However, a 2022 report suggests that Shingrix is now readily available and no longer on the CDC’s list of vaccines in delay or shortages. A person can get the vaccine at the doctor’s office and pharmaceutical stores.

The CDC notes that a vaccine shortage is not a new occurrence. Some vaccine shortages are widespread across the globe, while others only affect specific regions or communities.

The reason for vaccine shortages may be multifactorial and can include:

  • drug recalls
  • manufacturing or production problems
  • increasing demand
  • insufficient stockpiles
  • interruptions in supply
  • companies leaving the vaccine market
  • lack of resources to purchase vaccine

Research from 2022 indicates that preventing vaccine shortages is a top priority worldwide. However, medical experts can make temporary changes in the immunization schedule to curtail the situation.

The CDC states that Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and PHN for at least 7 years. PHN is a significant complication of shingles that causes severe nerve pain long after the rash has cleared. Shingrix also provides better and more long lasting protection than previous vaccines.

Shingrix is a recombinant vaccine containing a weakened version of the VZV to provide a robust immune response. Since it does not contain live components of the virus, it can significantly benefit most people with long-term health conditions or weakened immune systems.

According to the CDC, receiving both doses of the vaccine can offer the following benefits:

  • 68–91% effective in preventing shingles in those with weakened immune systems
  • 91% effective in preventing shingles in those aged 70 years and above
  • 97% effective in preventing shingles in those aged 50–69 years

The CDC recommends the shingles vaccine to all adults aged 50 years or older.

The agency also recommends the vaccine for people aged 19 years or older with a weakened immune system due to disease or medical treatments.

Guidelines state that people aged 50 and older can receive Shingrix, with no maximum age limit. Individuals at a higher risk for developing shingles are also eligible for the vaccine from 19 years of age.

However, the CDC recommends that people should not take the vaccine if they:

  • currently have shingles
  • are pregnant or trying to become pregnant
  • are allergic to any components of the shingles vaccine

If a person suspects that they or someone nearby is experiencing an allergic reaction or anaphylaxis, they should seek emergency medical aid immediately.

Anyone in the United States who has experienced a severe allergic reaction to the shingles vaccine can call 1-800-822-7967 or report it online using the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.

Shingrix is a vaccine available to prevent shingles. Although there were previous shortages of the vaccine, it is currently readily available in doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

The Shingrix vaccine contains a weakened version of the VZV. Medical experts note that it is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles and is suitable for people with a weakened immune system. A healthcare professional needs to administer the Shingrix vaccine in two doses between 2 and 6 months apart.