The latest shingles vaccination approved by the CDC is in short supply throughout most of the nation, including Idaho.
The new vaccine, Shingrix, is offered at multiple pharmacies across the Treasure Valley, including Walgreens, Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Rite Aid and some family pharmacies such as Ladd Family Pharmacy — but all said they were affected by the shortage. Since its release in February, Shingrix became a high-demand vaccine across the nation, leading to the lack of inventory that, for many pharmacies, started in the middle of May.
“Once word got out about how effective it was, we had people coming to us daily,” said Robert Boulier, pharmacist-in-charge of Ladd Family Pharmacy in Boise.
Shingles, which the CDC says affects about 1 million people a year, is caused by a viral infection that can cause nerve pain for years after the rash disappears. It develops from the same virus as chicken pox, so anyone who has had chicken pox in their lifetime could get shingles.
According to the CDC, about one in three people in the United States develop shingles, and it most often affects older adults. Doctors recommend that people get the new vaccine starting at 50 years old, even if they have already received the old vaccine.
Many pharmacies across the Treasure Valley rely on shipments from the vaccine’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, which arrive whenever they’re available and usually contain between five to 10 vaccinations. According to the CDC, the manufacturer has increased its supply for the year and aims to meet the demand, but shortages will likely continue until the end of the year.
In the meantime, many pharmacies have started wait lists for people seeking the vaccine.
The new vaccine is distributed through two separate injections: The second is required between two and six months after the first. This has further complicated the shortage issue, as pharmacies have to balance first-time patients and those returning for their second shot. That’s led some pharmacies to prioritize returning patients when it comes to wait list placement.
According to Nikki Price, Albertsons’ director of pharmacy operations for the Intermountain and Denver division, Albertsons pharmacies could have some availability depending on where you go, as the limited supply is regularly shifted around locations based on need. But as with other pharmacies, most patients will find themselves on a wait list.
Boulier said his pharmacy is also prioritizing those seeking their second shot. Both pharmacies were confident that these patients will be able to complete their immunization despite the shortage. However, first-time patients — depending on where they go — could wait from a few weeks to a couple months.
According to the CDC, the cause of the shortage comes from the demand side of the equation, which rose quickly.
Terry Ribbens, a family medicine doctor with St. Luke’s, said Shingrix has proved to be much more popular than its predecessor.
“The new vaccination is more effective than the last one,” Ribbens said. “It’s 90 to 98 percent (effective). The other was somewhere between 60 to 70 percent.”
Shingrix also differs from the previous vaccine in that patients can take it starting at 50 years old as opposed to 60. Price also said this was a factor for the high demand.
“It’s really a whole other decade of individuals who are now eligible to receive it,” Price said. “Anybody 60 years and older knows someone who’s had shingles. So when this vaccine came out and it was publicized by our pharmacy team, I think that demand increased greatly.”