“Having the chickenpox as a child is good,” they say. “It means your risk of contracting the pox again is very low — and you probably don’t even remember how bad it was!”
What they don’t tell you, however, is that if you’ve contracted the chickenpox, you’re at risk for contracting the shingles virus for the rest of your life. The lingering varicella zoster virus is capable of hiding out for decades and then suddenly turning active again, causing a painful and blistering rash.
PalmBeachPost.com describes shingles as “horrendous, causing a burning shooting stabbing pain that can linger even after the rash fades” — and this couldn’t be more true. In fact, many people suffering from shingles have such painful rashes that they’re completely unable to sleep or work.
It may seem odd that this virus is still around, considering that there is a vaccine for it. As NPR recently reported, the current vaccine isn’t too great — but a new vaccine is being developed and could possibly hit the market as soon as 2017.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone over the age of 60 receive a shingles vaccine, health experts have acknowledged that the vaccine is ineffective more often than not. It only prevents shingles 64% of the time when it’s first administered, and by the time people turn 70, the vaccine is only effective 38% of the time.
There are two main barriers with an effective shingles vaccination, NPR reports: the first problem is the cost, and the second problem is distribution. Unlike children, adults are on their own when it comes to scheduling vaccinations, and because the shingles vaccine isn’t recommended by the FDA for anyone under the age of 60, most insurance plans exclude coverage for the shingles vaccine until the patient turns 60 (if they cover the vaccine at all).
However, there seems to have been an increase in adult vaccinations thanks to walk-in clinics and urgent care facilities, which have spread quickly across the country in the past few years. Most of these facilities have short wait times, extended hours of operation, and a variety of preventative care — including vaccinations, which are administered frequently to a majority of the three million patients that visit urgent care clinics every week.
The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is currently testing a new shingles vaccine which is 97% effective on a consistent basis, according to the latest test results. It uses a technology called an adjuvant, which NPR defines as “a chemical added to the vaccine with the sole job of ‘waking up’ the immune system.”
It’s possible that this new vaccine will be effective enough to convince people that they can prevent shingles by getting one vaccination — but what researchers still can’t predict is whether Americans actually will.