By Lola Augustine Brown
You don’t want to get shingles. Fortunately, Health Canada recently approved a new vaccine that’s 90% effective at protecting you. And unlike the shingles vaccine we’ve had until now, it remains effective even in people over 60. It’s called Shingrix, and it will be available early in 2018.
If you’ve ever had chicken pox, you have a 50-50 chance of getting shingles, the extremely painful skin rash caused by the same virus, and the odds against you increase the older you get. Older immune systems don’t work as well and the virus, also known as herpes zoster, can take advantage of that weakness. Even after the rash clears, about 13% of those afflicted will suffer with nerve pain (known as postherpetic neuralgia) for weeks or months.
Developed by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix requires two doses spaced two to six months apart. Zostavax, the vaccine in use since 2006, requires only one shot but is less effective, reducing the risk of contracting the disease by half overall (people in their 50s get about 70% protection) and providing even less protection for older people—the vaccine is only 18% effective in those 80 or older. Its protection also fades over time.
Ontario currently covers the cost of the Zostavax shot (the only part of the country to do so) for those aged 65 to 70; it’s not clear whether the same will apply to the new vaccine.
Some 130,000 Canadians get shingles every year, and an estimated 30% of Canadians will contract the disease at some point, so getting the shot is likely a good idea. Reported side effects were minor and mild, such as pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site.
Canada was the first country to approve the new vaccine; the United States approved it not long afterward.