Why Has The Shingles Vaccine Not Caught On?

To close out our series on shingles, we address the question “Why has the availability of the vaccine not caught on?”


The shingles vaccine, Zostavax, was approved by the FDA in the spring of 2006.  button-cdc-shingles
The clinical trials of the vaccine halved the risk of getting shingles and decreased by two thirds the risk of developing postherpetic neuralgia, the pain that can last for months or years.

Is the vaccine safe?
The vaccine is safe with usually only mild side-effects such as some arm soreness, mild redness, swelling at the injection site, or headache.

Yet, the vaccine has not caught on!

Harvard Medical School offers some potential reasons to consider:

  • Unlike the familiar flu and pneumococcal vaccines, which usually cost less than $20.00, the shingles vaccine is more expensive costing around $150.00 and up.
  • There may be a co-pay involved for the visit to receive the vaccination
  • The Zostavax vaccine must be stored at a temperature of 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many doctors do not have freezers that will keep the vaccine that cold, so the vaccine often has to be given by appointment.
  • Most vaccines traditionally target communicable diseases.  With shingles being far less contagious and far less lethal than the flu, measles, and many other diseases we get vaccinated for; most folks have not seen the need to take preventative measures even though the likelihood of shingles and the inevitable pain is high.

In addition, the shingles vaccine does require a physician prescription, unlike the flu vaccine.  This can limit availability of the vaccine within many elderly populations if they are not regularly seeing a physician.

Does Insurance Pay for the Shingles Vaccine?

Traditionally vaccines are one of the best health care bargains due to a low up-front cost which averts sickness, and long term pain complications, especially the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia as a result of shingles which can last for months or years.    Still, the availability of insurance coverage is a concern.

Insurance does not pay for the vaccine if the person is less than 60 years old.  Medicare does pay for the vaccine for people 60 years and older under Part D.  There is a co-payment of around $60.00 to $80.00.  Other insurance carriers may pay, but typically the person will have to pay the co-pay for the vaccine and must be over 60 years old.

Should people less than 60 years old get the shingles vaccine?

In 2011, the FDA expanded the age indication for the vaccine to include adults from 50 to 59 years old.  This decision was based on a large study showing that the vaccine reduced the risk of herpes zoster by approximately 70% for this age group.

Do people acquire life-time immunity with one vaccination?

People, who have had shingles, can still get shingles again.  At AA Care Services, we recommend to all our senior/elderly clients that they ask their doctor for the shingles vaccine whether or not insurance pays for it.    Since research is ongoing regarding a booster shot after 6 years, AA Care Services recommends that anyone 50 years and older follow up with their doctor to be sure all vaccines are current.

Want to learn more?

Check out these links to find out more about the shingles vaccine.

“The shingles vaccine:  Why hasn’t it caught on?”
The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide

“Shingles Vaccine Protects Seniors and Is Covered by Medicare”
The Huffington Post – How Much Does Shingles Vaccine Cost? – Shingles Shot – How often is it covered?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Herpes Zoster Vaccination

Helen Trowsdale, President of AA Care Services, is a nurse administrator with over 30 years of experience as a BSN, psychiatric nurse, and geriatric care manager with adults as well as pediatrics in hospitals, private duty home health care agencies, and residential home health care. Her team of caregivers are dedicated to serving their clients with home care in San Antonio, New Braunfels, and Austin; providing clients with consistent, quality care while minimizing the number of caregivers in the home. Learn more about AA Care Services.

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