Shingles vaccine not a treatment
| April 18, 2010 9:00 PM
DEAR DR. GOTT: Thank you for the letter about the shingles vaccine. I would like to know how it works. Is it like the flu vaccine? I have suffered with shingles for 10 years now. I have asked my doctor for the vaccine, but he said insurance companies wouldn't pay for it until I am 60. Is it because, as you stated, they have only tested the vaccine on those 60 and older?
I am currently taking Valtrex, and it has stopped the outbreak but not the pain. I am turning 60 this year and want to know if the vaccine will not only help me but might also get me off the Valtrex, because it is so expensive.
DEAR READER: An outbreak of shingles typically lasts only a few weeks with proper treatment. For those who go untreated, the risk of developing prolonged or permanent side effects, most notably nerve pain but also numbness and tingling, becomes greater.
Unless you are simply having repeat attacks, I highly doubt that a single outbreak could last 10 years. You are more likely experiencing some of the side effects I mentioned above. They are likely permanent if you have had them for 10 years.
The shingles vaccine is not a treatment. It will not help you with regard to your pain; however, it may prevent future outbreaks or lessen the severity and duration of any future attacks.
Because you are not yet 60, you are not a candidate for the vaccine simply because it has not been studied in those under 60. However, because you will be 60 this year, I recommend you make an appointment with your physician after your birthday to get the vaccination.
I would also like to take this opportunity to mention an error in the column to which you are referring. I stated that shingles is highly contagious and that those who have not had chickenpox can develop it after becoming infected by the person with shingles and that those who have had chickenpox could develop shingles. This is somewhat incorrect. While shingles is highly contagious, it is only so during a small window in which the blisters begin to break open and ooze. Before the rash develops and after it crusts over, the people are not contagious. The virus is not transmitted through the air; direct contact between the infected drainage and the mouth or an open sore is necessary. Also, I was mistaken that direct contact may result in the development of shingles in those who have already had chickenpox. I apologize for this error but still caution anyone in the contagious period of shingles to avoid direct contact with others, regardless of whether they had chickenpox or not, just to be on the safe side.
People who are interested in receiving the shingles vaccine should speak with a physician or pharmacist because there are special precautions that must be taken. The vaccine must be kept frozen at a specific temperature until it is reconstituted and then must to be used within 30 minutes. Because of these restrictions, most doctors do not store the vaccine in office; rather, it must be picked up by the patient at the nearest pharmacy in order to be given within the necessary time frame. I had some readers write to tell me that they received the vaccine right in the pharmacy by a nurse on staff. Not all states allow this, however. Your doctor or pharmacist is your best resource in this regard.
Dr. Peter H. Gott is a retired physician and the author of several books, including "Live Longer, Live Better," "Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Diet" and "Dr. Gott's No Flour, No Sugar Cookbook," which are available at most bookstores or online. His Web site is www.AskDrGottMD.com. Copyright 2010, United Feature Syndicate Inc.