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The Worst Pain Anyone Can Experience

Decades ago, parents would host "chickenpox parties"...

Before scientists developed a chickenpox vaccine, this was a way to expose kids to the virus. A major reason was to "just get it over with" so the child wouldn't get chickenpox as an adult. One of my researchers remembers that her entire kindergarten class was out with chickenpox (she'd already had the virus years before).

At the time, it seemed like a good idea. Today, we know better.

If you had chickenpox as a kid, that virus never left you... Some of it lies dormant in the nerves along your spinal column.

Later in life, that virus can wake up, triggering excruciating blisters and redness on one side of the body... an infection called shingles. Turns out, shingles afflicts 1 in 3 Americans at some point in their lifetime.

Typically, it presents in a band along the torso, but it can occur anywhere...

I saw a number of shingles patients in my ophthalmology practice. That's because about 20% of shingles cases develop in the eye and can lead to blindness.

It's known as one of the most painful illnesses anyone can experience...

Folks who have had it often say their skin felt like it was on fire.

And unfortunately, a third of us will experience it at some point. Each year, around 1 million Americans get shingles.

It's not surprising that it's a major concern for our Health & Wealth Bulletin readers... if our inbox is anything to go by. Last month, we answered a reader's question on shingles and within days, our inbox was full of shingles and shingles-vaccine questions.

So today, I'm answering some of your questions to help you decide if the vaccine is right for you...

Now, let's dig into the Q&A... As always, keep sending your comments, questions, and topic suggestions to My team and I really do read every e-mail.


I had a relatively mild case of shingles when I was in my 20s. Now I am 75. Should I get the vaccine? – L.R.


Unfortunately, shingles is a "gift" that keeps on giving...

People tend to think that if you've had shingles once, you can't get it again. But it turns out the chance of recurrence is about 4.5% in patients younger than 50. But the risk increases to nearly 6% for folks 50 and older.

And your risk increases over time. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop shingles. Also, if you have a compromised immune system (for instance, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases), you're more at risk of getting shingles.

The downside is that people with weak immune systems are also more likely to react poorly to the vaccine. But most folks reported only mild side effects: redness, swelling, pain, and irritation at the site of injection.

Otherwise, this vaccine appears to be quite safe, and it reduces the pain and occurrence of the disease by at least 50%.

We recommend talking to your doctor to determine if the vaccine is the right call for you.


Is it true you must have two shots two or three months apart? Is it $210 per shot? – R.M.


Here in the U.S., the only available vaccine is the Shingrix vaccine. And you do need two shots to be fully protected (the second within two to six months of your first shot). And it's not cheap.

For the years we've followed shingles vaccines, we've never seen the price below $200 per dose. Despite the fact that around 99% of people aged 50 and older carry the dormant version of the virus that causes shingles – and that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people aged 50 and older get the vaccine – the cost isn't covered for everyone.

Many private insurance policies will cover all or a portion of the cost. But it's not covered under Medicare Part B. If you have Medicare Part D, your shingles vaccine is free.

And even if you have to pay cash... relative to the pain and suffering this disease causes, it could be the best health care money you ever spend.


I'm 72 and had the Shingrix vaccine (both shots) five years ago. (I had chicken pox when I was in my late 20s.) Is it still recommended to get the Shingrix vaccine renewed every five years? – B.M.


The full protection of the vaccine usually lasts about five to seven years. After that, the effectiveness wears off as you age. If you had your vaccine five or more years ago, talk to your doctor about whether or not you should get a second one.

Article Submitted by:

Joyce Schultz, Program Director, Gig Harbor Senior Center


7191 Wagner Way, Suite 102, Gig Harbor

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