Fact Checked

How Much Does the Shingrix Vaccine Cost?

About 99 percent of American adults have had chickenpox, and many incorrectly assume that this makes them immune to shingles later in life. Shingles, which is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, is a painful condition that develops when a person’s immune system becomes weaker later in life, allowing the virus to reemerge. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one out of every three people in the United States will get shingles at some point in their lives. The Shingrix vaccine was approved for use in preventing shingles in 2017, and older Americans aged 50 and older are strongly advised to receive the vaccine. However, the Shingrix vaccine cost can be prohibitive for some people, so finding savings is important in order to make sure that as many people receive the vaccine as possible.

What is the Shingrix vaccine?

Previously known as the zoster vaccine, the brand name Shingrix vaccine is the first vaccine for shingles to be approved by the FDA in more than ten years. The vaccine was developed with hopes of increasing the level of protection for aging adults against shingles and its complications. As people age, their immune systems weaken and they become more likely to experience shingles and its complications, which can put people at serious risk. The vaccine is administered into the upper arm as an injection, and people must receive two doses of the vaccine, spread out over a period of two to six months, in order to be protected. 

What is the Shingrix vaccine used to prevent?

The Shingrix vaccine cannot be found over-the-counter and is used to prevent the onset of shingles and postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles, in older adults. Explanations of these conditions are provided below.

Shingles

Shingles is a disease caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, called varicella zoster virus, also known as herpes zoster. People who experience chickenpox as children, which is estimated to be 99 percent of American adults, have the virus lying dormant in their bodies after they recover from chickenpox. The virus does not ever fully go away, so when people’s immune systems weaken as they age, the virus can come back and cause shingles. Shingles is an uncomfortable disease characterized by a painful rash that usually develops on one side of the face or body. The rash consists of blisters that take about seven to ten days to scab over and between two and four weeks to fully clear. Most people who have shingles experience the rash on either the left or right side of the body in a single stripe, but sometimes, it occurs on one side of the face. People who have the shingles rash on their face can sometimes experience vision loss. In addition to the characteristic rash, other symptoms of shingles include:

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Upset stomach

Postherpetic neuralgia

Postherpetic neuralgia, sometimes called PHN, is the most common complication of shingles. Postherpetic neuralgia is long-term nerve pain that occurs for months or years in the area where the shingles rash was, even after the rash has disappeared. The pain associated with postherpetic neuralgia is so severe and debilitating that it can prevent people from carrying out daily activities, such as eating or sleeping, causing them to be hospitalized. The older a person is, the more likely they are to experience postherpetic neuralgia and the more severe their symptoms are likely to be. An estimated 10 to 18 percent of people who get shingles will experience this complication. 

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Is the Shingrix vaccine a live vaccine?

Unlike Zostavax, an earlier shingles vaccine that is a live attenuated vaccine, Shingrex is an inactivated recombinant, adjuvanted vaccine, meaning it is not alive. As such, Shingrex can be safely administered to people who are taking low-dose immunosuppressive medication, may experience immunosuppression in the near future, or have recovered from an immunocompromising illness. At the present time,  a decision has not been made regarding the safety of the vaccine for people who currently have a weakened or compromised immune system due to disease or medication. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is currently examining the issue. Because people with weakened immune systems are considered at higher risk of shingles, the goal is to find a way for the Shingrex vaccine to be given safely to people with weakened immune systems. A recommendation is expected in the future.

How much does the Shingrix vaccine cost?

The general cost for Shingrix out of pocket is 280 dollars for both shots. Patients with health insurance from the government marketplace and most private health insurance plans or drug plans should be able to receive Shingrix with no deductible or copay if the vaccine is received from an in-network provider. People with Medicare will not have the vaccine covered unless they have Medicare Part D, which requires a copay of about 50 dollars per dose. Patients may be able to receive a discount on the Shingrex vaccine by using a pharmacy discount card program, such as USA Rx, or they may qualify for assistance through GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the manufacturer of the Shingrex vaccine. Patients can look online to see whether they may be eligible for payment assistance or speak to your doctor's office about options.

How effective is the Shingrix vaccine?

The effectiveness of the Shingrix vaccine varies depending on the age of the person receiving the vaccine. Shingrix is 97 percent effective at preventing shingles in people between the ages of 50 and 69 who received both doses, while adults aged 70 and older reported 91 percent effectiveness in shingles prevention. Shingrix was able to prevent postherpetic neuralgia, a complication of shingles, in 91 percent of 50 to 69 year olds who received two doses of the vaccination and 89 percent of adults 70 and older who received the vaccine. It should be noted that the risk of shingles and its complications increases as a person ages, but people 70 and older still received a protection rate of 85 percent against the virus in the four years after vaccination.

Who should get the Shingrix vaccine?

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommends that healthy adults aged 50 and older receive the Shingrix vaccine in order to protect themselves against shingles. The vaccine should be administered in two doses, separated by two to six months, in order to protect against contracting the shingles virus and experiencing complications from the virus, including postherpetic neuralgia. Other shingles vaccines, such as Zostavax, do exist and have been in use since 2006. However, the Shingrix vaccine is preferred and is recommended over Zostavax. Patients who are allergic to Shingrix, need immediate vaccination and do not have access to Shingrix, or prefer the Zostavax vaccine over Shingrix may still use the Zostavax vaccine if they are healthy and aged 60 or older. However, even patients who have already received Zostavax are recommended to receive the Shingrix vaccine, as it is more effective at preventing shingles. People should get the Shingrix vaccine even if the following are true:

  • They have had shingles in the past.

  • They have received the Zostavax vaccine.

  • They are not sure if they have had chickenpox.

Some people believe that they are immune from shingles because they have had chickenpox in the past. In fact, the opposite is true. Shingles is caused by the same virus as chickenpox, usually after it reactivates after laying dormant in the body since childhood. More than 99 percent of American adults over the age of 40 have had chickenpox, which means they must be protected against shingles. 

Who should not get the Shingrix vaccine?

Most healthy people aged 50 and older should get the Shingrix vaccine, even if they meet the criteria listed above. However, there are some groups of people who should not receive the Shingrix vaccine. These include:

  • People who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredient of the Shingrix vaccine or the vaccine itself.

  • People who have tested negative for immunity to the virus that causes shingles, the varicella zoster virus. People who test negative should receive the chickenpox vaccine instead.

  • People who currently have shingles.

  • People who are currently pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • People who have a moderate or severe acute illness, including those with a fever of 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. These people should wait to receive the vaccine until they recover.

What side effects are associated with the Shingrix vaccine?

There are some side effects associated with the Shingrix vaccine that your healthcare provider will speak to you about, but for the most part, they are mild and last two to three days. The most common side effect is soreness in the arm that receives the vaccine. Other side effects include:

  • Redness

  • Tiredness

  • Headache

  • Fever

  • Nausea

  • Swelling

  • Muscle pain

  • Chills

  • Stomach pain 

No serious side effects or side effects requiring medical advice have been reported as a result of the Shingles vaccine.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/public/shingrix/index.html 

https://www.shingrix.com/discover-shingrix.html 

https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/symptoms.html 

https://www.cdc.gov/shingles/about/complications.html 

https://www.shingrix.com/about-shingles.html 

https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/shingles/hcp/shingrix/faqs.html 

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/shingles/news/20191113/new-shingles-vaccine_what-you-need-to-know 

https://www.gskforyou.com/vaccines-patient-assistance/

Published July 31st, 2020 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by Chris Riley

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