Immunization panel endorses shingles vaccine

The federal advisory group's recommendation is expected to improve coverage and access of the shot by adults.

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Nov. 13, 2006

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Patients who are at least 60 years old should receive a vaccine to prevent shingles, even if they already have had an episode of this condition, according to a vote by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at its meeting in Atlanta last month.

This action was taken because Zostavax, manufactured by Merck & Co., was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May. Studies have shown that a single shot reduces the risk of shingles by 50%. The chance of postherpetic neuralgia is cut by 67%. The effectiveness of the vaccine declines with age, although the chance of developing chronic pain as a result of shingles is still reduced.

"This vaccine represents an important medical breakthrough aimed at improving health in older people," said Anne Schuchat, MD, assistant surgeon general and director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

Those who have a history of chickenpox are at risk of developing shingles. About 25% of adults are expected to do so if they are not immunized. Officials at Merck hope that this recommendation will allow more people to take advantage of vaccine benefits.

"While a number of health plans are already offering insurance coverage of Zostavax, the panel's recommendation is likely to further increase coverage of the vaccine and further expand access to it among older people," said Mark Feinberg, MD, PhD, vice president of policy, public health and medical affairs at Merck Vaccines.

The committee also voted to divide the increasingly complicated child and adolescent immunization schedules. One schedule will focus on children younger than 6 years while the other will highlight shots needed by older youngsters and teenagers.

The ACIP is a panel of experts convened by Health and Human Services to advise the CDC. Recommendations become CDC policy after they are accepted by the agency's director and published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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External links

Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link)

Vaccination resources, American Medical Association (link)

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