Manufacturing delays, coupled with high demand, have resulted in a nationwide and local shortage of Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine that can prevent the excruciatingly painful rash and blisters that usually strike after age 60.
The scarcity is spotty locally. Some pharmacists say they still have a small amount of the vaccine in stock, while others report having been out of it for a while. Worse, it may take weeks for the two-dose shot to be restocked at outlets on the Island.
“It’s on back order. We don’t have it in stock,” said pharmacist Nathan Mohan of New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park. “Our wholesalers are saying it’s on back order from the manufacturer and they’re expecting a shipment around December 28th to the first of January.
“I have so many people who are waiting for this vaccine,” Mohan added. “In some cases they have gotten one shot, but they still need the second one.”
Shingrix, a product of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, was approved for people 50 and older by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2017. The vaccine is more than 90 percent effective, compared with the 51 percent efficacy of an earlier shingles vaccine, a product called Zostavax, manufactured by Merck.
“Zostavax is still available. We have that one in stock,” Mohan said.
In a statement Wednesday, GlaxoSmithKline told Newsday that it plans to bring significantly more doses to market in 2019.
“Shingrix 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 company’s statement said. “We had a large shipment ship out last week, and starting this month, we are shipping large volumes of vaccine.”
The situation facing most patients seeking immunization has been bleak because even large chain pharmacies have run out of the vaccine, pharmacists said Wednesday
“Basically, supply isn’t meeting demand,” said Julio Viola, director of centralized pharmacy services for the Northwell Health system. “Shingrix is in short supply nationwide.”
Viola said the vaccine is offered at the health system’s physician practices throughout Long Island, New York City and Westchester.
But the supply is so scant, he said, that Northwell has had to work out a way to cover as many patients as possible.
“The product comes in a box of 10. So we’re recommending that each box be reserved for five patients,” said Viola, emphasizing that each patient then would be fully vaccinated.
Shingles is caused by the re-emergence of the chickenpox virus — herpes zoster — which remains in the body decades after the childhood infection. As immunity wanes later in life, herpes zoster rebounds as shingles and brings with it exceptional pain and misery.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in January that healthy adults 50 and older get both doses of Shingrix, not only to prevent the painful rash and blisters of shingles, but also to ward off post-herpetic neuralgia, the most common shingles complication.
The neuralgia affects nerve fibers and the skin, triggering an excruciating burning sensation that lasts long after the rash and blisters have vanished.
“Shingles is the worst. It’s terrible, “ said Howard Jacobson, board chairman of the Long Island Pharmacists Society, which represents more than 200 independent pharmacists in the region. He said his wife developed shingles years ago.
Jacobson said the Shingrix vaccine is covered by most health insurers and Medicare Part D. For those paying out-of-pocket, each shot runs around $175, he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, there were supplies of Shingrix, though not many, at two of his three pharmacies.
At one of those — Ryan Medical Pharmacy in Rockville Centre, on the campus of Mercy Medical Center — there were four boxes of Shingrix and four patients scheduled to be vaccinated. At the other outlet, Rockville Centre Pharmacy, there were two.
“When the warehouse has it, we constantly have it,” said Jacobson, who added that he is scheduled for a second dose of the vaccine.