New shingles vaccine hard to come by across Connecticut

A new vaccine to protect against a painful disease known as shingles is a victim of its own success and nearly impossible to find in Connecticut and many parts of the United States.

The vaccine, produced solely by GlaxoSmithKline and called Shingrix, became broadly available in the United States about a year ago.

A few months later, it was difficult to find doses of the vaccine in pharmacies or doctor’s offices.

That’s because federal health officials lowered the recommended vaccination age from 65 to 50 last year. A robust advertising campaign for the vaccine, a two-shot process that provides greater protection than an older, single-shot vaccine, also increased demand for Shingrix.

“There are more people asking for it. There is more awareness of the disease,” said Diana Levison, a pharmacist at Oxford Pharmacy in Connecticut.

The pharmacy, located in the town of the same name, has a small number of doses of the vaccine. But those are reserved for customers who were able to get the first dose and need to follow up with another.

Anyone else who wants the vaccine is placed on a waiting list, a practice that’s been adopted by many pharmacies in Connecticut.

“We’re taking names,” Levison said

GlaxoSmithKline estimates about 115 million people ages 50 and older are eligible for the vaccine.

Shingles affects one in three adults, is usually identified by a blistering rash and can cause debilitating nerve pain that lasts for months. There are about 1 million cases of shingles each year in the United States, with the rise of the disease increasing with age.

Shingles is caused when the varicella-zoster virus that causes chickenpox — usually a childhood disease – resurfaces decades later.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an online vaccine locator. But it warned that “some locations are experiencing shingles vaccine shortages.”

“Remember to call ahead to ensure that the vaccine you need is available,” the CDC said.

None of the dozen or so pharmacies contacted by the CT Mirror Monday had any doses of the vaccine for new patients.

That included the CVS at 777 Main St. in Hartford.

“I don’t think (GlaxoSmithKline) thought it would be so popular,” said pharmacist Eric Hunt.

He also said he believed all CVS stores in the state were experiencing shortages.

Peter Przybylski, a pharmacist at Seybridge Pharmacy in Seymour, said his store had vaccines “intermittently” until the end the April, when it ran out.

It then received 20 doses in September. And none since.

“I have a waiting list of more than 40 people,” Przybylski said.

In a statement, GlaxoSmithKline, which is based in Great Britain, said it “has been met by unprecedented demand by health care providers and patients.”

“Providers are immunizing patients at a rate several times what was previously seen for shingles,” the drug company said.

GlaxoSmithKline said it has responded to sharply increased demand by accelerating the supply of Shingrix in the United States.

“We have been regularly shipping large volumes of vaccine every two to three weeks. Another large shipment was distributed this week. ... in December, we moved move to a twice-monthly shipping schedule,” the company said.

Still, the vaccine takes six to nine months to produce and GlaxoSmithKline said it is expecting “ordering limits” to continue through 2019.


Ana Radelat is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror ( Copyright 2018 © The Connecticut Mirror.


Loading comments...
Hide Comments

Stories that may interest you

News groups fight to keep Harvey Weinstein's hearing open

News organizations are going to court in hopes of pulling back the curtain on Harvey Weinstein's next court appearance in his sexual assault case

Offshore wind developers to invest $4.5M in Rhode Island

The developers of a new offshore wind farm are investing $4.5 million in Rhode Island to advance the industry in the state

Lawyer for driver in shooting involving Hamden, Yale police says officers fired without warning

The lawyer for the driver whose car was fired upon by Hamden and Yale officers last week is waiting for police dashcam and body camera footage to complete the picture, but he said Monday it looks like police opened fire without provocation.

Teen charged with assault leaps from Boston courthouse balcony

Massachusetts State Police are investigating after a teenager suffered severe injuries after apparently leaping from the fourth-floor interior balcony at a Boston courthouse