Ask the Pharmacist

Q: I can’t find the new shingles shot anywhere. Why is there a shortage?

A: The newer, more-effective shingles vaccine, Shingrix, came on the market in January 2018, and the “shortage” began in May. Many adults over age 60 received the original shingles shot, Zostavax, after it came on the market in 2006. Some may even remember that it too was in short supply the first couple of years. The manufacturer simply cannot manufacture enough supply to vaccinate all adults over age 50 in the U.S. immediately. Demand for the new vaccine is especially high since it is over 90% effective compared with Zostavax, which was around 50% effective.

If you’re one of the 99% of adults over 50 years old who have had chickenpox, the virus that causes shingles is inside your body and can reactivate at any time. One in every three people in the U.S. will get shingles in their lifetime. No matter how healthy you feel, your immune system declines as you age, and that puts you at an increased risk for shingles.

Further exacerbating the shortage, this new vaccine is a twodose series, with the second shot administered two to six months after the first. Due to the remarkably high demand, you may find that your healthcare provider or local pharmacy is temporarily out of stock. To address the current high demand, the manufacturer expects to significantly increase deliveries and accelerated shipments of doses of vaccine in 2019, however the manufacturer has implemented order limits, is allocating shipments to its customers, and expects this to continue.

So, there is some hope that it will be easier to find the vaccine in 2019. In the meantime, be patient, inquire about supply at all healthcare providers and pharmacies, and put your name on as many “waiting lists” as you can find. There is no rush to get the vaccine, especially if you received Zostavax in the past five years as this means you have some protection. Hopefully the shortage will be eliminated sometime in 2019.