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This photograph depicted a close view of a patient’s skin surface, revealing the presence of a pustular-vesicular rash, which was attributed to a generalized herpes zoster outbreak, due to the varicella-zoster virus (VZV) pathogen. The VZV pathogen may lay dormant in the spinal nerve roots through a chickenpox-infected individual’s life, only manifesting its presence through outbreaks, like the one seen here, as shingles. (CDC/Joe Miller)

Shortage of shingles vaccination continues as pharmacies scramble

DICKINSON, N.D. — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 million people in the US get shingles each year. While the CDC says two doses of the vaccine Shingrix is more than 90% effective at preventing shingles, it has been in short supply since the start of its use in 2017, and pharmacies in Dickinson are no exception.

"We've been experiencing it for a long time. It comes in sporadically," said Al Schwindt, pharmacist at Thrifty White Pharmacy.

Schwindt said they have a waiting list of about 30-40 people.

"We have some that are waiting for their second dose. The majority of them are new patients waiting to get started," he said.

Schwindt said they do not know when the shortage will end.

"It's a matter of when it become available, you can get it. We order it all the time. If we get it, we get it. If we don't, we don't. Once we get it, we start qualifying and notifying the people on our call list. A lot of times people will go from pharmacy to pharmacy to find out who's got it. We don't discriminate — 'Well, you go to Medicine Shoppe; you should go there.' If somebody comes here and we've got it, and we have some available, we try to accommodate the best we can," he said.

Southwest District Health Unit, which also offers the vaccine, has people on a waiting list for it throughout all of the eight counties they serve. Director of Nurses Brett Kallis said the amount they receive a month isn't consistent.

"It just depends. When we're on back order, we'll get 10 doses at a time, so we might not be getting it monthly," she said.

The company that produces the vaccine, GlaxoSmithKline, provides this supply update on its website: "Supplying the US market remains our highest priority, and we are committed to increasing and accelerating SHINGRIX supply. For 2019, we plan to bring significantly more doses to the US compared to 2018. As healthcare professionals are vaccinating with SHINGRIX at an unprecedented rate, ordering limits and allocations should still be expected and individual customer resupply experiences will vary."

The CDC anticipates that order limits and shipping delays will continue throughout the year.

Patients should receive two doses of Shingrix within a 2- to 6-month time frame. The CDC recommends you do not restart the vaccine series or substitute Zostavax (the previous shingles vaccine used) for the second dose. Instead, if it has been more than six months since you received your first vaccine, use a vaccine finder to find places near you that have Shingrix.

It recommends adults 50 years and older should be vaccinated. While the risk of having shingles increases as you age, anyone who has ever had chickenpox can get it, as it is caused by the same virus — varicella zoster virus. If you've had chickenpox, you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting shingles.

"If you've already had chickenpox, (the virus) is already in your body," Kallis said.

Shingles is a painful rash that develops on one side of the face or body and typically begins with pain, itching or tingling of the skin. If the rash occurs on the face, it can affect the eye and cause vision loss.

"The rash consists of blisters that typically scab over in 7 to 10 days and fully clears up within 2 to 4 weeks," according to the CDC.

Other symptoms of shingles include fever, headache, chills and upset stomach.

Shingles can cause other complications, the most common being postherpetic neuralgia, or long-term nerve pain, which occurs where the shingles rash was and can last for months or years after the rash is gone. This occurs most often in people over the age of 40.