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FDA Gives OK To Broader Use Of Shingles Vaccine

Chickenpox virus particles from an infected patient.
Chickenpox virus particles from an infected patient.

Shingles. Strange name. Bad illness.

The same virus that causes chickenpox can erupt after hibernating in nerves for decades, causing severe, burning pain, as well as blisters. And the nerve pain shingles triggers can persist long after the flare up, sometimes lasting for years.

The condition tends to strike older people and those with weakened immune systems. And now the Food and Drug Administration has approved expanded use of Zostavax, a shingles vaccine made by Merck, to people 50 to 59 years old. The vaccine, given in a single shot, was approved almost five years ago for use in people 60 years and older.

The FDA says about 200,000 otherwise healthy people aged 50-59 get shingles in this country each year. About 1 in 3 people get shingles at some point in their lives. The risk increases with age.

The vaccine cuts the risk of someone getting shingles by about 70 percent, according to the FDA. The most common side effects seen with the vaccine include headache and redness, pain and swelling at the site of injection.

Merck told Shots a single dose of Zostavax costs $161.50. A 10 pack brings the cost down to $153.93.

The Zostavax supply has been tight. Merck says it cleared a lot of backorders for the vaccine late last year. Still, there may be continued shortages, depending on demand. Merck says you can search for doctors providing the vaccine here.

Just in case you were wondering, Zostavax is not approved to prevent chickenpox and hasn't been studied for that use.

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