The Shingles Vaccine ReturnsBy PAULA SPAN
You may have seen a rugged-looking retired firefighter named Dennis Grogan in a TV commercial recently. “I have never encountered such a burning sensation,” he declares. “Like someone had set a bag of hot charcoal on my neck.” An announcer warns, “As you get older, there’s a greater chance shingles can happen to you.”
Let me explain why this ad actually represents an encouraging development.
The product never mentioned by Mr. Grogan is Zostavax, a vaccine against shingles approved by the Food and Drug Administration for people over age 60. Large clinical trials showed the vaccine reduces the risk of developing shingles by roughly half. Shingles occurs when the varicella zoster virus, which also causes chickenpox and can lie dormant in nerve cells for decades, reactivates to cause a painful rash. In some, the intense pain can persist for months after the rash clears, a complication called postherpetic neuralgia.
With more than a million cases annually and a high rate of serious complications in older patients, the development of a vaccine was a major public health advance. But you’ve never seen a broadcast ad for the vaccine before, or a public service campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because year after year Merck, the drug’s manufacturer, couldn’t produce enough of it.