The shingles vaccine: hype or not?

We've all seen the Merck commercials pushing the shingles vaccine. There's a before and after aspect to my life now. Before I had shingles, I would do an inward eye-roll every time the shingles vaccine commercial came on. (Sorry, Merck!). After getting shingles, I wish they would change the ad to be even more urgent sounding than it is. In fact, after getting shingles, I honestly don't think Merck can overstate the risk, given the pain shingles causes and the possible life long (forever pain) complications it may present.

At the time of this writing, the vaccine is only approved for folks 50 or older. Just previous, you had to be 60 to get it. That age requirement aligned well with what I formerly thought about shingles - that it was an old person's disease or those with compromised immune systems. Boy was I wrong - and that wasn't the only misconception about shingles that I had.

I also thought shingles was pretty uncommon. And apparently it used to be. The problem was that I was relying on old information and had never bothered to update my knowledge about shingles. In fact, I'd never actually researched it at all.

The reality is that shingles is on a major uptick. Ironically, the success of the chicken pox vaccine given to children has led to fewer adults getting a second exposure to the virus. That second exposure would cause a new immune response, bolstering our defense against shingles for years to come. No second exposure = no increased boost = higher than ever rates of shingles. Even among younger and otherwise perfectly healthy adults.

Why the age limit on the vaccine? I can only speculate, but from what I've read thus far, the initial demand for the vaccine outpaced the supply. Merck ended up opening a new facility to produce the vaccine and thus provide a steadier supply. That's when the age limit was lowered to 50. I'd love to see that age limit decreased further, making it available to anyone 35 or older.

Some sites pooh-pooh the vaccine, stating that it's only 51-80% effective (depending on which site you look at). Honestly, shingles is so bad that if there's something that can reduce the risk of getting it even by half, it is so worth the vaccine. If you're old enough to qualify, see your doctor and ask for the vaccine.

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