Shingles vaccine for seniors gets the green light

A government advisory panel in the United States has given it's backing for a new vaccine against shingles.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) are recommending that the vaccine should be given to adults 60 and older in order to protect them against the painful skin disease.

The ACIP is part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as a rule their recommendations are followed by federal health officials.

They also influence whether or not a vaccination will be covered by insurance companies.

The vaccine, Zostavax, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in May and can protect as many as 50 percent of older adults from developing shingles.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a disease that affects an estimated 2 in every 10 people in their lifetime and this year alone more than 500,000 people will develop shingles.

It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same virus that causes chickenpox.

Although it is most common in people over age 50, those who have had chickenpox, are at more risk for developing shingles.

Shingles is also more common in people with weakened immune systems from HIV infection, chemotherapy or radiation treatment, transplant operations, and stress.

Researchers estimate the vaccine, which is produced by drug company Merck, could prevent 250,000 cases of shingles that occur in the United States each year and significantly reduce the severity of the disease in another 250,000 cases annually.

If shingles appears on the face, it can lead to complications with hearing and vision.

Another complication is postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition where the pain from shingles persists for months, sometimes years, after the shingles rash has healed.

The vaccine is not designed to prevent new infections but rather to prevent the infection re-emerging and is not intended as a treatment for people who have or have had shingles.

It is thought the FDA's approval of Zostavax was the result of a study of more than 38,000 people, in which 19,000 were given the vaccine and others received a placebo shot.

It was found that those who were vaccinated with Zostavax developed shingles at only half the rate of those who received the fake vaccine.

The vaccine is not recommended for people whose immune systems are compromised, such as those with HIV/AIDS, or patients receiving immunosuppressant therapy.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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