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Chicken Pox for Adults? Introducing Zostavax. By Our June Student Pharmacist, Andy Dauner.

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Whether from a TV ad or a question from your friendly local pharmacist, you may have heard about the Zostavax vaccine. This vaccine is designed to protect you from the varicella zoster virus, which is the virus that causes shingles.

Shingles appears as a painful, itchy rash often near the waistline, shoulders, or facial area. Shingles usually occurs in people who are 60 years of age or older, but children can have it as well (although it is not very common). Believe it or not, this virus is already inside almost everybody’s body.

The varicella-zoster is the same virus that causes chicken pox in kids. After the chicken pox resolves, the virus lies inactive in the body and can reactivate years (even decades) later for reasons not fully understood. Therefore, anybody who had chicken pox as a child can develop shingles later in life. Shingles is not contagious, however, a person who never had chicken pox can contract it from contact with a shingles rash.

The main concern with shingles is that it is very painful and can cause nerve pain that persists even after the rash resolves. Avoiding these complications is rather easy, as the Zostavax vaccine can help to protect from developing shingles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anybody over the age of 60 receive the Zostavax vaccine. The FDA has approved it for use in any person 50 years of age or older. The vaccine has been shown to protect people who receive it for five years after immunization. Protection beyond the five year time span is uncertain.

People at highest risk for shingles are those who are over 60 years old, as the body’s immune system tends to decline around this age as people grow older. Also, people who have diseases that suppress the immune system (such as diabetes) or who are on medications that lower the immune system (such as steroids) are also at increased risk.

The vaccine is given subcutaneously, usually in the triceps area. Unlike the flu vaccine (which is given intramuscularly in the shoulder area), Zostavax is associated with less soreness after being given.

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Zostavax can be given by a pharmacist without a prescription and is often covered by Medicare Part D and private insurance companies. Remember, the pharmacy can always attempt to run the vaccine through your insurance to let you know of any costs before officially billing you.

If you have any questions about the Zostavax vaccine, your friendly pharmacy staff will be more than happy to answer them for you!




Zostavax package insert

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