A doctor’s first lesson in the treatment of patients is learning to live with humility. It was Friday clinic and I was counseling a patient about his Shingrix vaccine. “You will be fine,” I reassured him. “The vaccine is safe and effective.” I also let him know that I would be receiving my shot the same day. “Perhaps you will feel a little bit achy tomorrow, but otherwise, you should be able to go about your usual activities this weekend”. The next morning I called him to deeply apologize in case I had not properly prepared him for its side effects. I know I was not prepared! Statistically speaking, I found out that I was the one in six person who will experience the vaccine’s full side effects and I was miserable.
Thankfully, he suffered little of the side-effects the vaccine manufacturers described. I, on the other hand, had pronounced fatigue and achiness that had left me napping and uncomfortable for most of the weekend. After a couple of miserable, disgruntled, self-pity filled days I was quickly back to normal and back to work on Monday. I have no regrets about receiving my vaccine. My temporary symptoms were far-better than alternatively suffering from the burning pain of a shingles outbreak or, even worse, a post-herpetic neuralgia, a lingering chronic pain complication from a shingles viral infection.
This newer Shingrix vaccine is over 90% effective in preventing the disease while It’s predecessor, “Zostavax” was found to be only marginally effective over time and is no longer considered effective a preventative vaccination.
Shingles is caused by the reactivated chicken pox virus. It lays dormant in our body for years after a childhood infection. Surprisingly, there are some people who have had chicken pox but never experienced its classic red-blistery rash. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 99% of Americans over 40 have had chicken pox even if they do not remember an infection.
The CDC recommends all healthy adults 50 years and older receive at least two doses of Shingrix two to six months apart. If you have had shingles, received less effective Zostavax, or are not sure if you had the chickenpox, you should receive the two doses of Shingrix.
Anyone who has had a severe allergic reaction to any components of the Shingrix vaccine should avoid the immunization. Your medical provider will screen you prior to your vaccination. Example of when you should postpone the vaccination include, but are not limited to, situations such as you currently have active shingles, a fever, a severe respiratory infection, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Be sure to let your medical provider know if you are on any anti-viral drugs such as acyclovir or valacyclovir as you may need to hold your medication for a few weeks prior to receiving the vaccine.
Currently, I am planning ahead for “Shingrix – the Sequel” (round #2). It will be Ibuprofen, hot baths, and no weekend plans for me. My lesson was a good one. As a medical professional, humility is a great teacher and constant companion. It enables me to communicate both sides of the vaccination experience.