Medical miracle: One woman’s quest for the elusive shingles vaccine

Medical miracle: One woman’s quest for the elusive shingles vaccine


Once each week, I picked up the list on my desk and called all the phone numbers.

“Do you have it in?” I asked, followed by, “Do you know when you expect to?” and finally, “I should just keep calling?”

Then, because I am either a sucker or an optimist, I went on a few websites described as “vaccine trackers”, even though they hadn’t actually found me a vaccine in the months since I began looking.

I was searching for Shingrix, the vaccine approved 14 months ago to prevent shingles, a potentially painful and debilitating disease that sounds like something from a horror movie – a blistering rash caused by dormant chickenpox virus reactivating decades after the original infection.

This new vaccine is far more effective than anything that came before. The increased incidence and awareness of the disease, and new guidance that lowers the recommended age for vaccination to 50, has led to a national shortage — and this has meant that 50-somethings like me are searching for it with a passion they haven’t felt since trying to locate a Tickle Me Elmo for their kids decades ago.

“For the over-50 set, Shingrix can be harder to come by than a ticket to ‘Hamilton’ or a Paul McCartney concert,” an article in WebMD declared late last year, a statement that didn’t make me feel either better or in the least bit trendy.

I was determined to get the new vaccine because I was haunted by the suffering of an elderly uncle in the grip of shingles about a year ago. The trigger for shingles is unknown, but it appears to be more common in those who are frail, immunocompromised, older and stressed. My uncle was likely all of these near the end of 2017 — coincidentally just as the Food and Drug Administration gave GlaxoSmithKline approval for Shingrix — when he developed a blistering rash. That was followed by postherpetic neuralgia, which is excruciating nerve pain. The poor man was reduced to wailing so loudly that he was nearly asked to leave his assisted-living home. READ MORE