New Non Live Shingles Vaccine Approved by FDA and ACIP

For several years the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has been encouraging adults to receive the shingles vaccine or Zostavax. Shingles is a recurrence of chicken pox which we had as children. The virus lives within the nerve endings near the spinal cord and recurs following sensory nerves at unexpected times producing a chicken pox like (herpetic) rash with pain on one side of your body. The lesions follow the pattern of the chicken pox with pustules crusting over the course of a week. During the rash, patients are contagious and can transmit the chicken pox virus to people not immunized against it or those people whose immunity is diminished. As the rash subsides, a large percentage of the patients continue to have pain along the path of that sensory nerve which can last forever in a post herpetic neuralgia.

Zostavax will prevent an outbreak of shingles in about 2/3 of those who receive the shot. It prevents the post rash pain syndrome in a much higher percentage of the recipients. It was this quality that made it easy for me to recommend the vaccine to my patients and to take it myself.

The shot’s major drawback was that it involved receiving an attenuated or modulated live virus. This prevented individuals on chemotherapy or with a weakened immune system from receiving this vaccine.

To address that issue Glaxo Smith Kline developed Shingrix which is a non-live, recombinant subunit vaccine injected into the muscle on two occasions. It is touted to prevent shingles in 90% of the recipients over a four year period. It will replace Zostavax as the shingles vaccine of choice. For those of us who already received Zostavax they are recommending that we boost our immunity by receiving this new vaccine as well.

I have always been quite conservative on recommending new pharmaceutical products until they have been on the US market for at least one year. With the decreased funding of the FDA, I will wait at least a year until I see what adverse reactions occur in the US population. In the meantime I will price the product and try and learn if private insurers and/or Medicare will pay for its administration.

Flu Shot Campaign Begins

As school bells ring out announcing a new school year and pigskins fly through the air announcing the arrival of a new football season, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) begins its annual influenza vaccine campaign.  “Flu” or influenza is a viral illness associated with fever, severe muscle aches, general malaise and respiratory symptoms.  Most healthy children and adults can run a fever for 5 – 7 days and fight off the infection over a 10 day to three week period.  There is clearly a long period of malaise and debilitation in many that lasts for weeks after the acute febrile illness resolves.

The illness is especially severe and often lethal in the elderly, in infants, in patients with asthma and chronic lung disease and in those patients who have a weakened immune system due to disease or cancer treatments. Diabetics and heart patients are particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of unchecked influenza.

The CDC recommends vaccinating all Americans over six years old against influenza.  Adults can receive an injection, or a nasal application.  The 2012 – 2013 vaccine has been updated from the 2011 – 2012 version based on samplings of current influenza viruses spreading around the world.   It takes about two weeks to develop antibodies and immunity to influenza after you receive the vaccination.  If you received the vaccine last season or had the flu last season you are still advised to receive the 2012 – 2013 vaccine this year because immunity fades with time.  Flu vaccine should have arrived in most physician offices and community health centers and pharmacies by mid- August.  The CDC advises taking the shot as soon as it is available.

The vaccines used are not live viruses so one cannot catch the flu from the vaccine. Side effects usually include warmth and tenderness at the injection site and rarely general malaise and low grade fever a day or so later.  The benefits of receiving the vaccine far outweigh these minor and rare ill effects which can be treated with an ice pack to the injection site and some acetaminophen.  Please call your doctor to set up an appointment for a flu vaccine.

For those individuals who catch the flu we still have several antiviral agents available to treat the illness. These agents should decrease the intensity or severity and duration of the flu. We try to use these medicines as infrequently as possible because the flu can develop resistance to them over time.

Prevention of disease is an ever increasing component of our everyday language. Vaccination against an infectious disease such as flu or influenza is clearly one of the more effective preventive strategies physicians have available to offer patients.  While you are making arrangements to receive your flu shot inquire about several other effective adult vaccines including Pneumovax to prevent bacterial pneumonia, Zostavax to prevent shingles and post herpetic neuralgia and Tdap to prevent whooping cough or pertussis and tetanus.