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Effective new shingles vaccine still off the shelves

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 16th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A new vaccine against shingles could cut the risk of infection by half and reduce complications associated with the condition. However -- 60,000 doses have been supplied to Britain, but there is no fair way of distributing them. This leaves a lot of deserving people at risk.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The vaccine's effectiveness against post-herpetic neuralgia, which is a nerve pain that occurs at the site of a previous attack of shingles, was 59 percent.

An infection of a nerve and the surrounding skin, shingles is caused by the herpes varicella-zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox. While most people suffer with chickenpox in childhood, once the illness has disappeared, the virus remains dormant in the nervous system. Later in life it can be reactivated and cause shingles.

Shingles tends to affect adults over the age of 50. It's not yet known why the virus is reactivated, but it may be due to lowered immunity due to age, stress or another underlying condition. The lifetime risk of developing shingles is between 10 and 30 percent. This risk increases to 50 percent in those aged 85 years or older.

Dr. Sinéad Langan and her colleagues at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine studied the medical records of 766,330 American private healthcare patients aged over 65 between 2007 and 2009.

The group found that while almost 13,000 participants developed shingles, the vaccine reduced the rate of infection by 48 percent.

AS published in medical journal Public Library of Science, the study did find that the vaccine was less effective against shingles in older adults with impaired immune systems.

The Department of Health has failed to negotiate a large enough contract with manufacturers to enable a national immunization program any time soon.

The United Kingdom is currently in a very unique position, as 60,000 doses have been supplied to Britain but there is no fair way of distributing them. It's not yet known when a nationwide scheme will be brought in.

The vaccine, called Zostavax is available on private prescription for a cost of around £100.

"This study shows the effectiveness of the herpes zoster vaccine to prevent shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia in a general population of over 65s.

"Our findings should be taken in to consideration by those developing policy, particularly in the U.K. where plans to offer the vaccine are being made," Langan says.

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