Maker of shingles vaccine working to overcome shortfall
Kathie Geary waited 10 months for a shingles vaccine. It was five months longer than her husband, who got the in-demand shot series through the VA.
“The last time, you could go right in and they had it,” said Geary, 69, of East Deer. “Right now, it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of places that have it.”
She’s not alone.
Pennsylvania residents report being on waitlists for Shingrix, a shingles vaccine in high demand.
Shingrix, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, was first approved and sold on the market in late 2017. It is considered the more effective of two vaccines on the market. Since being approved, GSK has sold 12 million doses of the two-dose vaccine, said company spokesman Sean Clements. About a third of that was distributed in the first three months of this year.
Shingrix takes about six to nine months to manufacture. GSK has been working to minimize the shortfalls with overseas production ramping up. In April, it announced a $100 million investment in its Montana plant to expand the company’s manufacturing capacity.
Shingles is a disease that results in painful blisters on the torso and is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. Anyone who has had chickenpox is at a greater risk for developing shingles.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease physician, called the demand “unprecedented.”
A couple of factors have contributed to the shortage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the minimum recommended age for getting the vaccine from 60 to 50, making about 60 million more Americans eligible, and insurance companies were quick to adopt coverage.
With more than 100 million people 50 and older eligible, and enough doses in the first quarter of 2019 to fully vaccinate 1.8 million, Pennsylvanians wanting a vaccine should anticipate delays, which are expected through at least the end of the year.
About one in three Americans will develop shingles in their lifetime, according to the CDC. An estimated 1 million people get shingles every year. About 1% to 4% of those who get shingles are hospitalized for complications, which include heart attack and stroke.
The health department recommends that people use GSK’s vaccine finder or call their family doctor or pharmacy to see if the vaccine is in stock.